Friday, September 30, 2011

At Least it's not a €

So the new £50 note, featuring former Radnorshire resident James Watt, comes into circulation on 2nd November.

By the time the current generation of politicians have finished bailing out their banker pals we'll be lucky if it'll buy a packet of wine gums from Doldowlod's Spar Shop.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Theomania in Llanyre

Since 120 years is hardly any time at all in Radnorshire terms, you will forgive your blogger for being somewhat reticent in naming names and places in the following tale of religious mania from 1890.

The events, which created quite a stir in and around Llandrindod, commenced when two farming brothers began purchasing astrological materials which, together with articles in the religious press, convinced them that they were Moses and Aaron, some reports say Jesus and the Anti-Christ, and that their sister was Miriam. Their behaviour had already set tongues wagging but on one February morning the pair visited neighbours imploring them to come with them as they were journeying to heaven. No-one took up their offer except for a servant girl of sixteen who tagged along as they proceeded from Llanyre towards Llandrindod and then on towards Crossgates, singing hymns and shouting ecstatically as they went.

The servant girl's master rode after the party, persuading a Constable Price to give chase. The pilgrims were eventually overtaken and fisticuffs ensued, Moses and Aaron being subdued with the help of a local farmer and a gardener. The pilgrimage, now joined by curious on-lookers, continued, but this time in the direction of the cells at Penybont police station rather than the promised land. There was no police station in Llandrindod at that time, indeed Penybont was the headquarters of the Radnorshire Constabulary. Safely lodged in the cells, their young convert had wanted to join them but was chased away, the brothers were soon committed to the asylum in Abergavenny. Their sister Miriam, who was gripped with the same mania was deemed safe to remain at home.

The brothers couldn't have remained in Abergavenny very long, within a couple of months the eldest brother had married a sixteen year old bride, presumably their young convert. The couple were still farming in the locality at the time of the 1911 census.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Some Young Cymro"

I knew that Winifred the mother of the poet Kit Smart was a Radnorian, indeed he boasted of the fact - who wouldn't - in Jubilate Agno: For I am the seed of the Welch Woman and speak the truth from my heart. What I didn't know was that Winifred was the daughter or less likely the grand-daughter of Jeremiah Griffiths of Downton House, New Radnor, which of course is where Innes Ireland lived during his time in Radnorshire.

While wilfing around the matter I also noticed that the novelist Thackery was the great grandson of one Sarah Griffiths of Downton House, the niece of said Winifred. I'm not going to claim Thackery as a Radnorian but Christopher Smart? Certainly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Radnor on Taff

Your blogger has been looking at the 1901 Census for the town of Merthyr Tydfil, specifically at Radnorian migrants. At not much more than 1% of the population Radnorshire born folk were not a major element in the town, but with over 250 households headed by a Radnorian and an additional 90 householders having a Radnorian wife, they were not an insignificant contingent in Radnorshire terms. Indeed with some 750 sons and daughters in those households in 1901, a number which would have been swelled by off-spring who had already left home or had yet to be born, the town's influence on our county must have been sizeable.

What can we say about these migrants? Well the great majority were industrial workers, mainly in the mines (over 40%) but also in the steel works and on the railways. The town attracted it's share of craftsmen and traders - builders, tailors, drapers, half a dozen publicans, a watchmaker, even a town crier, one Richard Lewis Williams from Nantmel. A handful of residents of the town were even listed as agricultural labourers.

They came from every part of Radnorshire including places like Presteigne and Knighton. In the 1851 census migrants from those border towns were absent and one wonders if this was because much less English would have been spoken in Merthyr at the earlier date? Could migration figures perhaps reveal which parts of Radnorshire were more at ease moving to an over-whelmingly Welsh speaking locality in the days before the census took an interest in linguistic matters?

30% of the Radnorshire born householders had married spouses born in the county, 57% were married to wives from elsewhere in Wales and 12% had married English women. When we look at the Radnorshire born wives of non-Radnorian householders we find 45% had married Englishmen. Now getting on for half those marriages involved men from parishes just across the border in Herefordshire and Shropshire but there is a marked difference between the marriage preferences of men and women. One wonders why?

Some 17% of Radnorian householders in Merthyr in 1901 could speak Welsh, the figure was nearer 30% for their wives (remember this figure includes wives born elsewhere), around 17% of sons and daughters in Radnorian households could also speak Welsh - not necessarily in households where a parent was bilingual. Merthyr was in the process of language shift at this time and Radnorian migrants would obviously have contributed to the anglicisation of the town. As a supporter of bilingualism Radnorian was pleased to see that his great great uncle, Septimus Mantle, originally from Crossgates, spoke both languages, as did his wife and four offspring.

Of course there were many other valley towns to which Radnorians had migrated: the Rhondda Valleys (which had at least as many Radnorians as Merthyr), Aberdare, Ebbw Vale, Tredegar - over 500 household heads in Monmouthshire, more than a 1000 in Glamorgan in 1901. Far from being "backward and beautiful" as the seekers after a rural idyll are prone to suggest, even the remotest Radnorshire farmstead would have had family ties with the vibrant, proletarian culture of the despoiled industrial south.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Work In Progress

Radnorian was glancing through an old book, well one published in 2006, which stated that there had been no inter-breeding between Neanderthals and modern humans. By last year it was believed that modern humans, at least in Europe and Asia, had indeed interbred with Neanderthals and also with another group of hominids christened Denisovans. This year we find evidence that suggests that Africans, who only twelve months ago were seen as "pure" homo sapiens sapiens, have also interbred with other extinct hominids. Who knows what the position will be next year, I'm still hoping for an appearance by the abominable snowman.

A few years ago Radnorian was excited by the prospect that DNA was going to clear up various historical mysteries and I suppose it has sorted out a few, while creating many more. Was there an extermination or mass replacement of the British population of the West Midlands by the Anglo-Saxons? I don't know, I can't keep up.

What does seem apparent is that there has been very little DNA testing of populations in the British Isles compared with many other parts of the world. You still see articles about Welsh DNA, relying in part on the testing carried out in Llanidloes a few years. ago. An interesting location in its own right, being at the centre of the 16C English plantation of Arwystli, but maybe not typical of Wales as a whole - and I doubt if you could find anywhere that was typical of Wales as a whole. The presence of seemingly Balkan male DNA in Abergele, 7 out of 18 tested, is fascinating but how much more could be discovered with wider testing?

I wonder if political correctness has anything to do with the limited DNA testing in Wales. Victorians are correctly criticised for allowing their political prejudices about Empire, Protestantism, race and the German origins of the Royal Family to infect their work. But isn't something similar happening today, except the prejudices are more likely to be in favour of multi-culturalism and pro-Europeanism.

Anyway I'm adding this site to my blog-list.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Knowing Your Place

Did Radnorian miss something?

While he was hiding out at Lloches Lewsyn (see new header pic) did some subliminal message broadcast by the BBC cause irreparable damage to the brains of his fellow countrymen?

How else to explain the above effort (click to enlarge) from a site purporting to be the National Museum of Wales? You can check out the original here. If you wish you can click on the cymraeg tab in the top right hand corner to discover that not only did someone write this nonsense, someone translated it as well. I'm assuming the English version is the original.

There you go, whatever, shakes head, returns to cave.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Largest Greek City in the World

Well actually it's Athens although Melbourne may well be third. Look back at the census returns for the beginning of the twentieth century and the town with the most heads of household born in Radnorshire isn't Rhayader or Knighton and certainly not Llandrindod. Infact it was Merthyr Tydfil.

So while some might see Radnorshire as a rather fey, in-between land, a place which incomers can safely colonise without having to rub shoulders with prickly North Walians or perspicacious Southerners, the better-informed will know that the county has always been part and parcel of mainstream Wales.

Back to the song. In the 80s you'd often find it on jukeboxes in South Wales pubs. We used to play it - much to his annoyance - for a workmate from Tylorstown. There are not enough Welsh songs in English. It never bothered the Irish but in Wales I think there's been a tendency to think Welsh songs should only be in the Welsh language.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Forgotten Radnorians

Pictured is a Radnorian hero, Thomas Weale (1791-1863) a leader of the opposition to the Watt family's enclosure of the manor of Iscoed in the parishes of Llanyre, Nantmel and Llanfihagel Helygen.

Weale, his story is outlined - somewhat unsympathetically - in this book, refused to pay rent on the three acre Tŷ un nos which he had held freely according to the traditions of Wales - traditions which, of course, cut no ice with the British state. Early in 1830 the under-sheriff's men attempted an eviction. Initially beaten back by Weale and his neighbours, officialdom eventually succeeded in evicting the family on to the common during a snow storm and the house was demolished.

Weale, a carpenter by trade, was not overawed by this defeat and in 1836 he was sued by Watt for encroachment on his old holding, from which Weale had taken a load of hay. A Radnorshire jury found in favour of the local man, a decision the authorities declared to be perverse and which was subsequently retried in Hereford to Watt's advantage. In the meantime Weale had raised a force of a hundred men at Rhayader market who proceeded to tear down fences on former tai unnos occupied by Watt and around his ornamental plantations.

Postscript: In the 1938 Transactions of the Radnorshire Society there is an article tracking down old placenames, by one W. A. J. Weale (1883-1966). The article makes use of poetry by the likes of Lewis Glyn Cothi and Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr and the author is not afraid to disagree, surely correctly, with more well-known Welsh scholars such as Sir John Morris-Jones and Gwenogvryn Evans. The son of a Newbridge-on-Wye joiner, Mr Weale was living in Pontypridd when the article was published, although he seems to have retired to Llanyre after the war. He was the grandson of that bold defender of Radnorian rights Thomas Weale.