Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Book

It seems a new book of local interest from Logaston Press will be on sale soon, 230 pages, £10

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Forgotten Radnorian - Rev. John Bufton

The novel Gwen Penri - A Welsh Idyll published in London in 1899 - a tale of a Denbighshire banker's daughter attending college in Aberystwyth -  can't have been a great success, indeed a  reviewer in the Welsh newspaper Y Goluead complained that the author, who had migrated to Australia due to ill-health, must have forgotten everything he ever knew about Wales - if he knew anything in the first place!

So who was this Congregationalist minister and novelist with the Radnorian name of John Bufton?  According to this site Bufton was born in Llandrindod and died in Hobart, Tasmania in 1911, but it is the pseudonym Brynithon which gives a clue to his actual identity.  John was the son of James Bufton and his wife Mary Bowen, who at the time of the novelist's birth were farming Bryneithin in Llanbister parish.

Today Bufton is remembered for his 1905 opus Tasmanians in the Transvaal War, good copies of which sell for over £500.  A book of  interest, no doubt,  to Tasmanians and those interested in Australian participation in the Second Boer War, the background to the film Breaker Morant.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some Radnorians from the 1911 Census, No 1

"All is safely gathered in, except the rakings at Ty Gwyn"

Well that, according to the old people, was what the less respectful farm boys would sing at harvest festivals in Howey's Providence Baptist chapel.  Nowadays Ty Gwyn, which is found on the backroad between Howey and Llandrindod, takes paying guests and has a website, but in 1841 it was home to a young lad called John Lewis, the five year old son of an elderly farmer and his much younger wife.

I first noticed John, a carpenter, in the 1901 census when he was lodging at 1 Springfield Cottage ... the return said he had been born at Ty Gwyn and that, unusually, he spoke both Welsh and English. He was a lodger at the home of his nephew James Lloyd, as he had been in 1891. Indeed John Lewis seems to have been something of a sitting lodger since he was still there in 1911, although by then his nephew's family had moved on. In all three census returns John's bilingualism was recorded.

The 1841 Census showed that both his parents were locals - from Llandrindod and Diserth - and in subsequent returns Builth, in 1861, was the furthest he'd strayed away from Radnorshire. In 1851 he'd been a farm servant at Brynhir, the neighbouring farm to Ty Gwyn, his father having died the previous year. In 1871 and 1881 he was living at Cwmhowey with his step-father, he never seems to have married.

I suppose John Lewis could have learnt Welsh when his mother and step-father opened a grocer's shop in Llanfihangel Fechan in Breconshire - they were there in 1861  - but I like to think that it was the language he spoke to his father (born in Llandrindod c1776) as a child at Ty Gwyn and that he was just too old-fashioned and guileless to pretend he couldn't. Llandrindod's very own Ned Maddrell* perhaps?

* Of course in John Lewis's day Llandrindod would have had other locally born people who could speak Welsh but they would have been returnees from the industrial south or the children of incomers.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Radnorshire and the Titanic

Two subjects which seem to fascinate amateur historians are Jack the Ripper and the sinking of the Titanic. There are websites and forums examining those events in mind-boggling detail. Now, with the centenary of the sinking of the White Star flagship, the mainstream media has also gone overboard with numerous television programmes and books about the ill-fated liner.

The Western Mail's Lefi Gruffudd quite rightly complains about Welsh television's rather pathetic desire to join in this festival of remembrance while ignoring historical events of far more significance to Wales. Will Senghenydd, he asks, be remembered in 2013? Well perhaps not, but then Kate Winslet hasn't starred in a film about the Glamorgan mining tragedy.

If some of the Welsh connections to the Titanic story are ridiculous - according to the Western Mail the first class passengers ate off silverware made in Wales - at least Radnorshire can claim a more substantial link with the aftermath.

I wonder if the legal representative of the Dockers' Union and stout defender of the working class Clement Edwards took a particular pleasure in cross-examining Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon and his wife Lady Lucile at the Board of Trade Inquiry into the sinking of the doomed vessel. Through their links to the Lewis family - their father was a first cousin of George Cornewall Lewis - Cosmo's brother Henry had recently taken possession of Harpton Court near New Radnor, a locality that Edwards, the son of a Knighton draper,* knew well.

According to the popular press the lifeboat in which Duff-Gordon and his wife had escaped the Titanic was know as "the money boat." It was suggested that the crew had been bribed to get away from the sinking vessel rather than pick up survivors, even though there were just 12 occupants in the 40 seater craft. Despite some obvious inconsistencies in their evidence highlighted by Edwards, the Board of Inquiry found the couple quite blameless. They would suffer from the gossip of less generous sections of the public for the rest of their days.

Within a year Clement Edwards - he was the MP for the East Glamorgan constituency which contained the village of Senghenydd - would be representing the bereaved families at the inquest into the Universal pit explosion.

* Clem Edwards' Llangynllo born mother Sarah bore the fine old Radnorshire surname of Tudge - it dates back in the county until at least the 1690s. At the time of the 1911 Census and by then a widow, Mrs Edwards was keeping a boarding house, Penithon, in Llandrindod.