There is a place not far from where I was born which is one of the most idyllic settings I have set eyes upon. It is reached by a narrow, winding mountain road where craggy rocks overhang on one side and a wild, meandering river follows the narrow valley on the other. It is not far from the famed ‘Devil’s Staircase’ which is now a popular tourist route; its popularity due to the rugged, untamed beauty of the landscape. The house sits on the far side of a tumbling, mountain brook, set among majestic, Scot’s pines with the mountains rising up behind. It is a tranquil place with nought but the sounds of the breeze sighing through the pines and the brook babbling alongside. Standing there, it is hard to believe the brutality which occurred in this beautiful place.
Ancestors, on my grandmother Annie’s side of the family tree, once lived in this rural idyll. Annie’s grandparents lived here for a time, and her father is the subject of this piece.
When I was a little girl, I recall visiting a relative’s house and seeing a dark and sombre portrait hanging on the parlour wall. The elderly man in the portrait was apparently my great-grandfather, Hugh Jones, and the image of him scared the daylights out of me because he had only one eye. Where his right eye should have been, his eye-lid was stitched together like this; +
It wasn’t until I began researching my first novel that I discovered the story behind the loss of Hugh’s eye. I was in the library, trawling through old newspapers, not looking for anything specific but generally searching for stories which would give me a flavour of rural life at that time. I wasn’t looking or expecting to find anything about my ancestor’s there, so when I came across a report of “A Shocking Brutality” in The Brecon County Times, my heart missed a beat when I realised I was reading about my own great-grandfather, the subject of that portrait which so frightened me as a child. At the time of the assault, Hugh was just 25 years old. His assailant was another shepherd working for a large land-landowner living nearby. Though few shepherds suffered such brutal assaults as my great-grandfather, disputes between landowners were commonplace at that time, following the enclosures by the large estates of the upland areas where people had hitherto been afforded grazing rights for generations. The shepherds employed by these landowners often became pawns in their ongoing disputes.
Here is what the newspaper reported of Hugh’s testimony on the 21st June, 1875;
On the 24th of May last, about noon, I saw Rees Williams driving some sheep that I look after. I went to meet him, and asked him where he was going to take them. He began to curse, and accused me of coursing his sheep that morning. He was on a pony. He came onto me and asked me to strike him, and brushed his pony against me. I touched the pony with the stick that I had in my hand. He then got off the pony and pulled out a knife and threatened me. The knife he put back into his pocket and pushed against me again, and I tripped him up. When the defendant got up he struck me down with my stick. I was quite insensible for a time. When I came to myself I found the defendant was trying to gouge out my right eye with his finger. I was then on my back under him. He bit my two cheeks. He had hold of my right ear for some time, and tried to tear my lip. I bit his finger when he put it in my mouth (defendant’s left hand bore severe marks as of biting). He gouged my two eyes till I was quite blind with blood. I tried to get up, but defendant prevented me. He put his finger in my mouth again to tear my lip, and I bit it as hard as I could. He then begged of me to loose him and said he would go away. I loosed him, but instead of going away defendant struck me again in the face with his fists repeatedly. I was covered with blood and had great difficulty in getting home, because I was almost blinded. A doctor was telegraphed for, and he attended the same night.
Hugh survived the terrifying assault, though his right eye was lost. But he appears to have been hounded by ill luck, thereafter. Four years after the assault, he married a young woman who worked as a maid on the farm where he was employed. They had only been married a year when both she and their baby died in childbirth. Some years later, he married Annie’s mother but this wife also died of pneumonia when my grandmother, Annie, was just six years old.
Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.
You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.
Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd
The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd
Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71
You can also follow the author: