Monday, November 26, 2012

A new book from Builth

Perhaps like the black American soldiers from the Pencerrig camp this blog should stick to its own side of the Wye bridge,* but here we have a book (or maybe booklet - it only has 96 pages) full of interesting snippets about life in Builth during the Second World War.

Of course a locally produced book like this - it's published by the Builth Wells and District Heritage Society - isn't going to delve too deeply into the more controversial aspects of wartime life: profiteering, the black market, sexual shenanigans, the Epynt clearances etc.  What we do get are individual memories of varying quality and interest, the first chapter is particularly fine while one or two others would have benefited from a little discreet editing.

Some thoughts: the young Builth nurse who was badly wounded in the Coventry blitz and subsequently died.  More than 60000 civilians were killed during the war on the Home Front, shouldn't their names also be recorded on our war memorials?  The Bootle mothers who returned home after a few weeks because "they would prefer to face the bombs ,,,,, than stay in Builth."  One would like to know more.  The young Home Guarder much mocked for running off when confronted by a German parachutist, surely the sensible course of action?

All in all a volume that should fascinate younger readers and stir memories for the older  generation.

* It seems that the bridge was guarded to ensure that locally stationed white American troops stayed in Builth, while their black compatriots could go no further south than the Llanelwedd Arms. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Forgotten Radnorians

While the Anglicans continue to agonize over female bishops, Quaker women like Mary Pennell were leading congregations and preaching on both sides of the Atlantic some 300 years ago.  Born Mary Morgan in the parish of Nantmel in 1678, she migrated to Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen, presumably with her brothers John and Hugh Morgan.  In 1703 Mary married and in 1722, by which time she had had six children, "became a Quaker Minister and traveled through the eastern states, England, Ireland and on the Continent."

Mary Pennell left a sister Amy (1689-1762) back home in Radnorshire who had married a farmer from a non-Quaker background called John Griffith.  In 1726 a visitor from Pennsylvania inspired Amy's fourteen year old son John to travel out to the colony accompanied, at his father's insistence, by an older brother Thomas and their eight year old sister Martha.  In time they would be joined by two other sisters Mary and Sarah.

 The Quaker congregation at Talcoed, Nantmel provided the following certificate to accompany the young adventurers:

"To the Monthly Meeting or Quarterly Meetings of Friends and Brethren in the Province of Pensilvania in America but more particularly to the Monthly Meeting of Friends at Abington in the Sd. Province --- whereas three children Thomas Griffith about 18 years of age and John Griffith his brother about 14 years of age and Martha Griffith their sister about 8 years of age, all born in the Parish of Nantmeal and County of Radnor in South Wales, Being the Sons and Daughter of John Griffith and Amy his wife, inhabitants and Land holders in the Parish and County aforesaid, are by the order and free consent of their sd parents intending in a few days to go aboard a Ship Belonging to the Port of Bristol, Whereof Edward Foy is Captain, In order to Sail in Sd Ship (if God permit) to the City of Philadelphia in the Sd. Province. There to be delivered to their uncles, John Morgan, Hugh Morgan or either of them or to Mary the wife of John Pennell who is their Mother's sister, who all of them if living are settled inhabitants in this Sd. Province to the intent that they the Sd. John Morgan, Hugh Morgan and Mary their sister may take care of them and dispose of them as they shall think best and in case their relations doe perform what is desired and hoped for by the Sd. parents. --We then the persons hereunder named who are members of the Meeting which the Sd. parents belong by order of our Monthly Meeting held at Talcoed the 10th instant doe desire that the Sd. three children or either of them may be disposed of according as Friends of the Sd. Meeting of Abington shall think most expedient, and as to their Sd. children's descent we give you to understand that their Parents are Honest Friends having each of them a Public Testimony for the Truth wherewith Friends have Unity; and we further Desire (as well on the behalf of the Sd. Children who are hopeful as also for their parents and their aged Grandmother's sake who is an Honest Woman, namely Sarah Rees) that you will as need shall require, advise or assist the Sd. children in Order that they may be settled to Honest Friends,further and we, according to our power shall be willing to answer what you or any of our Brethrenvshall in Love desire of us who are your Loving Friends. Signed at and by Order of our MonthlyMeeting at Talcoed the 10th of the 4th month 1726"

This younger John Griffith (1713-1776) also became a Quaker minister eventually settling in Chelmsford, Essex.  His journal published in both England and Philadelphia is available here.

It's clear from reading about these Radnorshire Quakers that they were at home with the English language and that marriage to fellow Friends was more important to them than any national or regional loyalty.  They were also better educated than others of their class, the small farmers, weavers etc.  Take a look at the signature of John Griffith's sister-in-law Alice Pugh, a farmer's wife from Llandegley.  At a time when many would have made a mark or signed with a scrawl it has the look of a hand well used to using a pen: