Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hurrah for the Daily Mail

A big thank-you to the Daily Mail and all those who've made the non-singing of  Duw gadwo'r Frenhines by Giggs and pals such a huge issue.  It's even been picked up in the foreign papers and, by highlighting our separate identities, has doubtless done something to diminish the threat posed by the Great Britain team to the continued existence of Welsh, Scottish and English international football.

We all know that Welsh soccer players rarely sing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.  It's never caused a fuss in easy-going, moderate Wales.  But when this tight-lipped tradition transfers to the more rabidly nationalistic acres east of Offa's Dyke all hell breaks loose.

It's a puzzle of course why folk who are quite happy to see their laws made in Brussels, their armies deployed in support of American foreign policy, their best companies sold off and jobs transferred abroad and their respected head of state reduced to acting in a spoof advertisement for the James Bond franchise, get quite so up-tight about soccer players maintaining a respectful silence during the playing of the pre-match anthems.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shades of Anni Goch

The Radnorshire village of Norton may have a war memorial (in the form of a horse trough) with an inscription commemorating "its faithful sons who fought and died for England" but it also has a place in the history of Welsh literature.

There was a time when some might have claimed that Anni Goch, the subject of four (or is it five?) poems by the bard Ieuan Dyfi, wasn't a real person but a type, a stock figure.  The researches of academic Llinos Beverley Smith in the early 16C records of the Leominster Consistory Court have shown that Anni was real enough. She was the wife of John Lippard of Norton and her adulterous affairs, together with accusations of rape and attempted murder were enough to have her bardic paramour whipped around Presteigne church, while hubby John received similar exercise at Presteigne, Noron and Byton.

It's said that some 160 bardic poems addressed to Radnorshire patrons have survived, to which should be added nearly 30 more for patrons living just across the border in what is now Herefordshire.  Hopefully these will one day be brought to wider Radnorian attention by someone qualified to do so.  In the meantime here's a rough translation of one of the poems to Anni Goch.  As Ieuan Dyfi's work found it's way into the manuscripts Anni's connection with Norton was forgotten and copyists substituted another placename that met the requirements of cynghanedd - Overton in Flintshire.  One manuscript did get it right though - Nortyn:

Cynydd ydwyf yn canu

I am a huntsman blowing the horn
That musters the host.
I'll hunt with my swift hounds,
Finding the scent is not easy,
It was a hind with a bright form,
That escaped me from a nearby forest .
Everywhere there are snares
I've set for my girl.
Ni wn ar hynt yn y rhwyd
Yn nydd antur na ddeintiwyd.*
She stirs like a hart stirs
Retreating and leaving the covert.
And I'm like a huntsman's pup
Pursuing her like a rampant stag.

From Norton, colour of hazy sunshine,
Out there she was lost.
I don't know what land or region
She makes for from my pursuit.
Maybe she heads down south to the two Gwents
To escape her confinement.
The symbol of the island and my chieftain,
Sir Water, allow me the field;
And if the doe comes from the south,
Then, Sir Rhys, allow me to yoke;
Not to a wild beast or a tame creature
But one who flies with your birds.
If to Builth between turf and wind,
Sir Wiliam, allow me to hunt.
If  Gwynedd's your intention,
Sir Tomos, allow me a prison.
If to Powys, I'd spy you
After the chase and settling the hounds,
Further thanks will be paid,
To tall Mr. Richard Herbert.
If to Hereford, perchance, the fair one
Flees, for fear of being mocked,
In that land there's a chief,
Mr. Owain Pwl, allow me a pure fist,
May Ovid not forsake me,
This is my complaint, she's hiding.
From following the banks of the Wye,
Nor a step above Monmouth,
If she escapes from this lawsuit,
Then to the Vaughans I'll present my case.
If to England she tries to flee,
I know judgement will come there:
the barons of my king,
The men of the guard who love wine,
Will find the slim, upright girl
In one of the winehouses of London.
Or failing that, there's a long task
To find the girl who I'm seeking,
If she's disappeared completely then Dyfi
will seek the girl throughout the world.

Before the time comes to sing
I lose the scent in the hazels.
I'm sorrowful like Uthur for Eigr
It nurses a pain.
Oh for the wizards of Merddin
To give me high magic for her!
Like Gwdion who they often kept
Working endlessly for Huan.
If she resists the sorcerers' enchantments
Is there a magic word she doesn't know?

Beware she doesn't come on a bier
To Edmund from the mount to the sea.
Was there in the tale of Taliesin
A girl from Greece of such great sorcery?
In daylight she rules
In purgatory her face will be!

* Maybe someone can come up with a translation of this couplet which makes sense.

Like It Was

I'm not sure who this is meant to annoy, fanboys of Jimmy Clark or Sebastian Vettel.

The thing is that qualifying just wasn't that important in the 1960s. Racing was important though and here we find that Innes and Jimmy raced together 23 times for Team Lotus in Formula One with Innes winning 4 races with 3 seconds and a third, while Jimmy managed a second place and two thirds.

And for those who argue that Jimmy was just getting quicker, well in their last seven races together, after Innes returned from his Monaco tunnel crash, Ireland took 3 wins against a best finish of fourth for Clark - this without any team orders.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


It seems that Gareth Bale - his uncle played for Rhayader Town - has been arrested for failing to turn out for the TeamGB soccer team, see picture here.

Of course that's really Bale lookalike and fellow Welshman Liam Stacey, who was recently imprisoned for 56 days for some ill-judged comments on Twitter.  I doubt if any of the current anti-Bale tweets, many of which involve the adjective Welsh teamed up with various parts of the human anatomy and/or the perceived failings of Welsh people in general will lead to a similar period of incarceration.

As one of the dwindling band of those who support free speech I've no argument with that, but there really should be a law against the use of this term Team GB.  According to my passport our little region of the EU has three names: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Teyrnas Gyfunol Prydain Fawr a Gogledd Iwerddon and Rìoghachd Aonaichte Bhreatainn is Èireann a Tuath.  What or where Team GB is, heaven alone knows - perhaps it's a registered trademark.

Against the Odds

Just as  modern day censuses tend to exaggerate the strength of the Welsh language in Radnorshire, those of the late 19C and early 20C probably exaggerate its weakness, especially in the west of the county.  The rapid process of language shift - 19C observers describe the language retreating 20 miles in a lifetime - can surely be best explained by a deliberate rejection on the part of the local community.  The situation in Radnorshire may well have echoed that described by a witness who lived through a similar period of rapid language shift in Limerick in Ireland:  "the growing public feeling that Irish was a dying language, a mark of a degraded people who were not 'decent' - all this combined to produce a new people who from youth were pledged to speak no Irish. And so in West Limerick you had many who persisted in trying to speak a broken English and never again uttered a word in the old tongue they knew so well."

Given such attitudes it comes as a welcome surprise to come across a local Crossgates/Penybont family who actually seem to have passed on a knowledge of Welsh in the late 19C, when all around them were denying any connection with the native tongue.

Edward Stephens, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Elizabeth were born in Nantmel parish in the 1790s - a time and a place where you would expect them to have a knowledge of both languages.  By the time of the 1841 Census they were living at the Cummey, a place in Llanddewi Ystradenni parish, but nearer to the Gwystre Inn than the Walsh Arms.  By 1851 Edward has died and Elizabeth and her sons have moved to the Breconshire iron town of Beaufort, where in 1864 the youngest son, Hugh, marries a local girl called Ann Williams.  Perhaps it is Ann who is responsible for the subsequent linguistic history of the family.

Hugh and Ann have returned to Radnorshire by 1871 with their children Thomas and Sarah - both born in Beaufort.  Two more children, Elizabeth and Hugh jnr would be born in Llanddewi and Penybont respectively.  At first Hugh snr is as an agricultural labourer, later working as a plumber and glazier.

The first language information is provided by the 1891 census. The Stephens family were then living in the part of Llandegley parish which fell under the Kington Union and did not bother itself with such details.  In 1901 Thomas and Sarah have married but Hugh, his wife and two younger children are all recorded as being able to speak Welsh.

Ann Stephens died in 1903, her husband in 1905, but the 1911 Census identifies all of their children, living in and around the Penybont area.  Thomas and Hugh have married English speaking wives but are still recorded as being able to speak Welsh themselves.  Elizabeth and Sarah, both dressmakers, are living together - Elizabeth's English-speaking husband, a coachman, was away, lodging in Garth Road, Builth.  Both Elizabeth and Sarah are recorded as being able to speak Welsh, as is Elizabeth's five year old son - the child of a Llanddewi born mother who has never lived outside the county.

If we look at this through modern-day eyes this example of language survival within a family must seem commonplace.  But in early 20C Penybont?  Without the benefit of Welsh medium education or S4C and in the face of an animus against the language which had seen it abandoned on hearths across the county.  No, this family's persistence is surely quite remarkable.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bwgy Town

The previous vid could have done with some local accents but that's not a problem here.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Radnor Pop

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Frontier Post

Although the road from Walton to Presteigne flits to and fro across the border, it's easy enough to tell where you are; the Herefordshire sections being in such a worse state of repair than those of Radnorshire.  Arriving in Presteigne it's reassuring to see Owain Glyndwr's standard flying in the High Street. Some might argue that the reality was that Owain's forces sacked the town, but that would be to forget Edmund Mortimer's call for the Welshmen of Presteigne to give their allegiance to Glyndwr.  Clearly some still do.

On a recent visit I took the opportunity to purchase Mr. Parker's excellent history of the town, it's a book I read when it first came out in 1997 but this was a fairly recently updated edition.

If I have a criticism of this deservedly much praised volume. it's that only about 10% of  the book concerns the medieval town.  Perhaps local historians could make more of Welsh sources.  The public chastisement of the bard Ieuan Dyfi, he was symbolically whipped eight times around Presteigne church in 1501 after admitting adultery with Anni Goch - the basis for the bardic dispute between Ieuan and the female poet Gwerful Mechain.  Then there are the poems by Lewis Glyn Cothi to the lord of Stapleton, Dafydd Goch.  He came from the Fron, near Crossgates.  Or what about Morgan Elfael, the bard from Diserth who lived in Presteigne for at least twenty years and whose burial is recorded in the parish register, now found in Hereford Record Office - As an aside I find it interesting that Morgan was known by his bardic name in the public records (here for example in the lay subsidy for Presteigne, nine lines from the top).  And of course Elen Gethin lived out her days in Nash.

Moving on to a more general point, historians seem to get a bit sniffy when they use Welsh genealogical and historical sources.  They'll qualify a source by mentioning their unreliability or the bard's proneness to exaggeration.  As far as I can see these Welsh sources are no less reliable than the English records.  Are English lawyers and landowners and churchmen always reliable?  I'd make a guess that they were just as much a parcel of rogues as our present day establishments.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Sober Christian Gentleman

William Stephens, clerk of the peace for Radnorshire and a churchwarden at Presteigne, had obviously taken quite a dislike to the town's young Carmarthen born curate John Davies.  For in 1884 the reverend gentleman and Stephens' 34 year old daughter Agnes were forced to marry "surreptitiously" in London.

The 71 year old Mr Stephens, he was born in Kington of a Llananno family, was not prepared to take this lying down. He had complained to the Bishop of Hereford that Davies was a drunkard and a vulgarian and had brought great scandal upon the church.  In January 1885 the Bishop ordered an ecclesiastical inquiry, which was held, appropriately enough given the charges, in Presteigne's Radnorshire Arms.

Stephens' lawyer presented his case to the Chancellor of the Diocese and the five members of the Ecclesiastical Commission. Davies had fallen drunkenly into the street while alighting from a carriage - witnesses said the horse had lurched unexpectedly and the curate was sober. Davies had frequently been drunk in his lodgings - the proprietors of the lodging house said no such thing although they had been pressed by Stephens to say otherwise. Mr Booker, a former teacher and church organist, recalled an incident of profanity following the death of the vicar's wife. Davies had argued that a hymn was too lively a choice for her funeral service.  He'd even resorted to extemporising a verse to the tune "Brief life is here our portion, tee-tum, tee-tum, tee-tum, Mrs West, old girl is gone" - ah but the ex-schoolteacher had been helped financially by Mr Stephens and admitted under cross-examination that he couldn't swear that Davies was drunk.  All the points in favour of the curate being greeted with laughter and applause from the delighted audience.

With Stephens' case disintegrating amidst accusations that it was brought through malice, the remainder of the curate's 25 character witnesses were excused and Davies himself took the stand.  Under oath he denied all the charges against him and that was the end of the matter.  The happy couple being borne away in a carriage by their many supporters and an evening of "the greatest enthusiasm prevailed."

William Stephens died in 1890, who knows if he was ever reconciled to his daughter's new husband.  John and Agnes Davies, she died in 1932, are found in later censuses living in Northamptonshire and Dorset.  Sadly the 1901 census records that their only child had been "feeble-minded" since birth.


There's a brief mention of this - names withheld - in Mr Parker's History of Presteigne, which also reminds us of an earlier incident involving the church organist who had played the Dead March when the happy couple returned from their London elopement.  This incensed the good folk of Presteigne who burnt an effigy of the organist to the accompaniment of the self same tune played by a band.

Inspector Maddox tells it best by relating the charges brought by the organist against nine men for: "unlawfully and maliciously making or having caused to be made, a certain effigy or figure intended to represent the complainant, with having carried or caused it to be carried through the street of Presteigne, and made or caused to be made a great noise or disturbance with a band of music, and having caused a large number of people to collect around the said effigy in a certain field in the township of Stapleton, and having burned same in the presence of about three hundred people, with having riotously and tumultuously caused certain music to be played and making a great noise and disturbance, thereby creating a breach of the peace."

The nine were bound over and the town's police sergeant, whose evidence was deemed too flippant by the powers that be, reduced to the rank of a second class constable.  The organist, perhaps wisely,  moved back to Oxfordshire.