Monday, July 29, 2013

The Big Lie

This thoroughly researched book, it's really an extended essay of 112 pages, exposes the big lie that Welsh nationalists can somehow be implicated  with pre-war fascism. The accusations just don't stand up to Professor Jones's scrutiny and are shown to be without foundation, unworthy of any decent person.

Such a serious book should receive wide attention so I'd like to restrict my comments to a couple of minor themes explored in the chapter entitled Diwylliant Gwleidyddol Cymru.

Firstly, while the lies about Welsh nationalism and fascism are recurring elements on the Welsh political scene, there has been virtually no effort to discuss the real Welsh fascists of the 1930s.  This is the solitary exception from the pen of an English academic.

I don't really agree with Professor Jones about the significance of the 30% polled by the Mosleyite candidate in Merthyr in 1931. It was a straight fight and in 1929 the Tories and Liberals had polled 40%. Certainly Mosley's long-time associate Jeffrey Hamm has been ignored in Wales, just as cosy myths about the Spanish Civil War are preferred to, say, examining the life of a revolutionary like Billy Griffiths.  Such people are confined to the footnotes.  I'd like to add a couple more forgotten names: the ex-Communist from Cardiff, Rupert Arthur Beavan, an influential BUF organiser in West Ham; and the Liverpool-Welsh journalist Norah Briscoe (nee Davies).  She wrote for the Daily Mirror, was jailed for wartime spying in an MI5 sting operation and later wrote a well-received prison novel No Complaints in Hell.  In contrast to exploring the lives of these real but forgotten fascists and others like them, we must endure the frequently regurgitated fantasies against Plaid Cymru.  Why?

Is it because socialists don't want to explore their own backyard?  After all Mosley was on the radical wing of the Labour Party, an ally of the likes of William Cove, Nye Bevan and A J Cook.  No Welsh parliamentarians followed Mosley into the fascist wilderness but plenty of other former Labour and ILP MPs and ex-candidates in England did, and not just those involved with the short-lived New Party.  Did these people suddenly stop being socialists or did they believe that the Fascist's policies of state worship, corporatism and collectivism were not a thousand miles from their previous standpoints?

Secondly Professor Davies makes a sad but surely correct observation when he suggests that the big lie has been around for so long and been revived so often that many Welsh nationalists have come to believe that it must be true.  Why is this?

Is it because Welsh activists are so involved with domestic matters that they have little time for the wider world?  You see this in the way the Welsh blogosphere has little of interest to say about foreign affairs.  Do Welsh nationalists nowadays see the wider world only through the prism of the BBC?  Does Plaid Cymru want to be loved by the British left - who they seem to view as moral arbiters qualified to pass judgement on Wales and her history?  My own view is that it's high-time that we engaged with the world and not just the  bien pensants.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I've often thought that, left to its own devices, Wales would have developed a system of government somewhat along the lines of the Swiss cantons.  Fat chance of that happening of course, when we had the misfortune to share an island with such ambitious neighbours.

You find tantalising hints of the potential democratic canton in references like Lewis Glyn Cothi's request poem to the men of Elfael, or the men of Maelienydd paying £500 to confirm their medieval hunting rights.  Even in the 1630s the good people of Maelienydd were able to raise over £740, which they gave to King Charles to enable him to buy back the local Commons.  He had absent-mindedly sold them off to some rouge or other.  All these things, and we can find other examples, demanded an organisation of some sort and an organisation that had a fairly wide membership.  Even before the election of the first county council in 1889 the Radnorshire squirearchy realised that it had to rub along with the common herd, with arrogant newcomers soon learning that life was more comfortable if you didn't antagonise the locality.

It must have been this sense of localism that prompted some Radnorshire and Breconshire councillors to dip into their own pockets to raise much of the £23000 necessary to purchase the old Llanelwedd Hall estate in the early 1960s.  This was then gifted to the RWAS, enabling that organisation to provide a permanent home for the Royal Welsh Show. It's a bit hard to believe isn't it, not handing over a grant, but dipping into their own pockets!

I wonder what young people imagine life was like in 1960s Radnorshire?  One of my earliest political memories was of Tudor Watkins MP making a speech in our village street.  The gist of his message was that he knew exactly what the local councillors were up to, and he was the man to put a stop to them.  So what exactly were they guilty of?  Building council houses in almost every village? Maintaining roads that were the envy of  our neighbours; schools; libraries; social services; refuse collections, we had all that.  And all run without the assistance of the droves of imported officials deemed necessary for such things to function nowadays.

Of course a saintly few might have seen it as unfair that local families got the council houses and local school leavers got the council jobs, but at least the councillors could be voted off.  How do you get rid of an anonymous apparatchik without at least providing them with a cosy nest-egg?  Back in the 1960s we still had a degree of local government and now, perhaps for the first time in a thousand years, it doesn't feel very local at all.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Forgotten Radnorians - The Nabob

Here's a face that wouldn't look out of place perusing the stock pens at Llanelwedd, although in reality he found fortune in the Orient rather than the hills of Radnorshire.

It's a paradox that although Welsh was in rapid retreat across the Radnorshire countryside during the late 18C and early 19C, this only seems to have inspired some of the county's sons to take a deeper interest in the language and its antiquities.  For example the autodidact William Probert of Painscastle translated Y Gododdin and Edward Davies of Llanfaredd's researches earned him the sobriquet Celtic Davies.  Another who can be added to the list of the Welsh Language's Radnorian well-wishers was the man pictured, Thomas Phillips (1760-1851)

Although Phillips was born within the sound of Bow Bells, he came from a Nantmel family and spent part of his childhood in the county.  Having made a fortune in India and consolidated it with the purchase of a profitable estate in the Windward Islands, he returned to London and devoted himself to educational philanthropy.

Phillips gave over 22000 books to St David's College, Lampeter, endowing a chair of natural science at the college.  He also planned to endow a chair of Welsh but the Anglican hierarchy were having none of it.  Suitably rebuffed Phillips and his Radnorian friend John Jones of Cefnfaes planned to open their own Welsh Educational Institution in Rhayader.  Problems purchasing suitable land saw them transfer the project to Llandovery, leading to the opening of the College on St David's Day 1848. Phillips provided £4666 and 7000 books towards the new institution, in his will he would leave a further £12000.  Phillips and Jones stipulated that the Welsh language be taught at the college and that, for some portion of the day, it should be the only medium of communication and instruction.  A man ahead of his time.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Did Elaine Morgan ever live in Radnorshire?

How celebrated would Elaine Morgan have been if she'd lived in Hampstead instead of Mountain Ash?  She would surely have made it into the pages of Private Eye as yet another example of the London hacks over-use of the term "a national treasure."

As well as speaking with a regional accent and living in "the valleys" -  the current stereotype of the Welsh is based on television programmes such as BBC3's The Call Centre or MTV's The Valleys, certainly not on working-class girls who went to Oxford - Elaine Morgan also made the mistake of rather charmingly propounding an idea which is quite unacceptable to the closed ranks of academia:

I certainly agree with her comment that the scientific establishment is morphing into a priesthood and our reaction should be to treat them with the same lack of reverence that all chasuble wearers deserve.

No doubt the London broadsheets will eventually get around to printing an obituary and it may contain a reference, like Trevor Fishlock's piece, to Ms Morgan having once lived in Radnorshire.  The source for this will have been her autobiography Knock 'em Cold, Kid which mentions living on the border between Radnorshire and Herefordshire in Michaelchurch Escley.  Of course Michaelchurch Escley isn't near Radnorshire at all, and the farm mentioned, The Birches, certainly seems to be there and not in Radnorshire's Michaelchurch-on-Arrow.

It's a shame, but Radnorshire can't claim a connection with this talented woman.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Another review of a book I haven't read

It's more than 800 years since Giraldus reported that some of his Norman compatriots thought it best to turn Wales into an "unpopulated forest area and game preserve."  Which is pretty much what George Monbiot advocates in his recently published book.

George doesn't like the Cambrian Mountains, the Cambrian Desert he calls it; indeed he describes losing the will to live when faced with its bleakness.  Now as it happens, and as you can see from the satellite photo, Elenydd* isn't really an unproductive desert at all.  It's a major supplier of water - which presumably Guardian readers occasionally drink.  It produces electricity - both sensible (hydro) and daft (wind) - commercial forestry and the dastardly sheep.

Monbiot doesn't like sheep and I tend to agree with a good deal of what he has to say.  There is an over-dependence on sheep in Wales and Elenydd would certainly benefit from large areas being fenced off and restored to natural woodland. I'm not sure how that would affect the water catchment areas mind, and since he doesn't mention the reservoirs I'm guessing George doesn't either.

Of course the agricultural grant system encourages many of the wrong things, but what can Wales - or the UK for that matter - do about it?  I agree with Monbiot that grant aid should be restricted to smaller, family run farms, I agree that mad regulations should be ditched - the rule that fallen stock must be carted away rather than left to the raptors for example.  But these matters are decided in Brussels.  It's a puzzle to me why so many of the forces - the left, the unions, Plaid Cymru - who opposed it in 1975, are now the most enthusiastic backers of this constipated European cleptocracy.

Back at the end of the Sixties the Countryside Commission was pushing for the establishment of a Cambrian Mountains National Park.  They wanted it to open by 1972, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park.  Monbiot is also inspired by Yellowstone and especially its success in reintroducing the wolf.  He'd take it a step further though and bring back bears, bison, lynx and beaver to the hills of Mid-Wales. 

Personally I'd like to see the future of areas such as Elenydd decided, not by GATT, or the EU, or bored English environmentalists, but by the people of Wales.  I guess that makes me as much of a fantasist as George and the dream of elephants munching their way through Rhayader's Atlantic rain forest.

* I think it should be more properly called Elenid but Elenydd seems to have won the day.


On this beautiful summer's day let's take a trip from the Herefordshire border town of Kington to Cardigan Bay.  Despite being the birthplace of one Radnorshire icon (Ffransis Payne) and the resting place of another (Elen Gethin) the 2011 Census shows Kington to be a thoroughly English place, 92% of the town claiming no Welsh identity of any kind.

No worries, we're soon over the border and crossing two Welsh community council areas, Old and New Radnor.  Back in Victorian times there were plans to erect a giant statue of the Duke of Wellington here, it would have dominated the Vale of Radnor.  Perhaps it should have gone ahead since both communities recorded 71% No Welsh identity in 2011.  The locals may have opted for a Welsh-only identity, but there were precious few of them around to bother the enumerators.

Cross Radnor Forest and, in the community council area of Penybont, Welsh identifiers are in the majority .... well just, with 49% opting for a non-Welsh identity.  The same is true (49% non-Welsh) in Llanbadarn Fawr - casual visitors will know it as Crossgates, the Post Office having made up the name to avoid confusion with a place further along our route.

We pass through Nantmel (52% non-Welsh) to arrive in the bwgi-wonderland of Rhaeadr Gwy.  As late as the 1960s the children of Rebecca were said to have dangled an over-zealous police officer from the Wye bridge until he promised to turn a blind eye to their activities. It's a much more law-abiding place today, with 45% claiming no affinity with such wild Welshness.

Respectible folk will be glad to leave Radnorshire and its "half things" behind as we enter the Montgomeryshire community of Llangurig (42% non-Welsh) with the promise of Ceredigion and a glimpse of the sea to come. Geraint Howells used to boast that his old cynefin - it's now officially called Blaen Rheidol - was a place where Cardis lived even though the crows starved.  The non-Welsh seem to be doing fairly well too - 51% no-Welsh identity.

We come to Melindwr - I'm the casual visitor now and would recognize it as Capel Bangor - and, saints be praised, the non-Welsh element is a miniscule 39%.  Dafydd ap Gwilym's Llanbadarn Fawr soon jolts us back to reality (58% non-Welsh).  Heavens, it's even less Welsh than Crossgates!  And so we arrive in cosmopolitan Aberystwyth, with a 55% Non-Welsh population. Its hardly surprising that I rarely hear Cymraeg on the streets or in the shops during my occasional visits to the town.

Does any of this matter?  You tell me.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Mythology couldn't make it up

"let's build some modern myths and legends"

Well that's the opinion expressed in one anonymous comment to the blog.  Now of course this implies that there are not-so-modern myths and legends, which is obviously true, although you won't find them here.

When we occasionally discuss the more than 250 year resistance of the rulers of East Central Wales to the Norman invaders, we're not making it up.  You can read all about it in the contemporary record - not so much in the works of our Welsh historians mind,  indeed the best summary is to be found in a book by the UKIP candidate for Weaver Vale.

Welsh bardic poets and their Radnorshire patrons?  Again you don't need to invent a thing, for example more than 50 of the works of Lewis Glyn Cothi addressed to Radnorshire folk have survived, as well as poems by other bards too numerous to mention.  No need to go chasing after Shelley and his brief sojourn in Cwm Elan or Wordsworth's Radnorshire cousins.  There's a far more substantial body of work relevant to us as Radnorshire folk, we don't have to search for crumbs under another man's table.

The Rebeccaite organisation of Victorian Radnorshire?  Well it clearly existed, although I'll admit that they didn't donate their minute books and papers to the National Library. 

 If you want modern myths and legends best tune in to the BBC and not just their news output.  Be guided by their costume drama department and you'd hardly guess that most of the kings of England, pre-15C, spoke French or that all those RADA accents in Jane Austen are just so much codswallop.  The Welsh? Well according to the BBC's world view we didn't even exist back then. I suppose it serves a purpose though, to inform the masses that power properly belongs to people who sound like, that's right, the lads and lasses at the BBC.

Modern myths?  I'd nominate the attempt by the heritage crowd to turn Radnorshire into Kilvert Country and, as another comment pointed out, we have the Llandoddies.  These grotesques have spawned a series of children's books - the first rather disconcertingly published by Y Lolfa - authored by one Griswallt ap Llechitwyt - hilarious name what.  There was a time Radnorians did have names that appeared strange to foreign eyes:  Angharad verch Lello Bedo ap Madock of Llanvihangell Rhidython to give just one example.  Not joke names to amuse the ill-informed, but the real names of our Radnorshire forebears.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Out of the mouths

Now this young lad is obviously far too bright for the likes of Obama and Hague, but if you're wondering who should come out on top in Egypt, well he might be able to help.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Musical Interlude

It's good to see the Holohan sisters are back on youtube after a long exile on dailymotion.  I've picked out this performance because of its connection to the Radnorshire border country - it was one of the songs collected by Vaughan Williams from Mrs Powell of Westhope, Herefordshire.  I usually disable the show suggested video box but in the sisters' case I've made an exception - their version of Down By the Glenside is particularly fine.

Radnorshire Favouritism

Anyone interested in history - and I'm one of those who believe you can't understand the present without knowing a bit about the past - will welcome the ever-expanding coverage of Welsh Newspapers Online.

A couple of stories that caught my eye from the most recent upload were:

A report of two court cases at Presteigne Assizes in 1903 before Mr Justice Phillimore.  First-up a case involving seven Rhayader men accused of viciously assaulting water bailiffs in the employ of the Wye Board of Conservators.  A dangerous job being a bailiff on the upper Wye; and, as so often at Rhayader, the taking of salmon seems to have involved a large crowd acting in broad daylight.  Verdict - Not Guilty, with the judge accepting that in three cases this was fair, but as for the others ......

Next up six Newbridge men also accused of battering employees of the Wye Board - and on Christmas Eve as well.  This time the judge was more forthright in his summing-up, he regretted that the previous jury had either lacked sense or honesty and he hoped that the present jury would not entertain the idea of dismissing the defendants solely on the grounds that they were Radnorshire men.  Suitably warned the jurors withdrew, only to return shortly with another not guilty verdict. They obviously believed the men's story that they were innocent carol singers. This left the judge with nothing much to say, other than to express the wish that such cases no longer be heard in the county.

One lesson we can learn from old court cases such as these is how speedily they were dealt with, nowadays the legal profession would make sure they spent far longer feeding at the public trough. In the interests of justice, of course.

The second story concerns the Festival of Welsh Beauty held at Llandrindod's Albert Hall in 1910 and run by an organization called the International Association of Beauty Queens Ltd.  With travel and accommodation costs paid for, some 29 ladies - the competition was open to any girl of Welsh descent aged over 17 - descended on the resort from all over Wales and beyond.  First prize was a lightweight bicycle worth ten guineas and the promise of a trip to Paris in the company of  the organiser Mr Forsyth.  H'm.

The competition was to be judged  by the votes of the entire audience at the town's Albert Hall and perhaps this was a mistake:  First - Miss Annie Brick of Howey 347 votes, Second - Miss Jackson of Manchester 119 votes, Third - Miss Lily Davies of Llandrindod.  Foul cried the South Wales papers, they blamed local favouritism for the defeat of their local beauties.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Reluctant Welsh Blogger

This blog started out to cover snippets of Radnorshire history - basically to show that the county was part and parcel of mainstream Wales and not, for example, as this offering would have it: "neither in Wales nor England, but simply Radnorshire." Well-meaning perhaps, but for me comments like this just play into the hands of our ill-wishers and have no real basis in historical fact.

Occasionally I've allowed myself a rant about some contemporary issue or other and this is probably why my blog got listed on Blog Wales, where it rubs shoulders with more mainstream political offerings.  I feel a bit embarrassed by this.  Do my new readers really want to be informed about some minutiae from Radnorshire's past?   I'm tempted to tailor my material to suit the new audience but that's not really on. So apologies to anyone expecting a Radnorian take on NHS reform or Climate Change.

Over the years I've posted a lot about the Rebecca Riots in Radnorshire.  Whereas in most of Wales these actions were done and dusted by the 1840s, in western Radnorshire they continued throughout the Victorian period and even as late as the 1930s.  Tory magistrates thought better of convicting the Rebeccaites while Edwardian Liberal politicians found it expedient to praise them.  Aimed mainly at the fishery laws, Rebecca's activities also encompassed actions against evictions and enclosures, over-pricing by shopkeepers and so on.

Knowing all this I was still a little gobsmacked to read about this action in 1916. With the socialists of  Merthyr Tydfil competing to see who could be more jingoistic in their support for the war and Lloyd George on the verge of becoming prime minister, you'd imagine that red, white and blue would have been the order of the day.  Perhaps Radnorshire is a world of its own after all.