A moving account of a bygone age.

The following account was passed on to me by a fellow lover of Welsh history. It conjures up a by-gone age which we will never see the like of again, and so I felt it was important to share it.  It was written by Jenkin Lloyd, Tregaron Registrar, and the article is a translation of the original which was published in the Cymru, 1912. So here it is, enjoy!

A funeral in the Highlands.

In our minds the word “Highlands” seems always to be associated with Scotland because that country is divided into highlands and lowlands and the word is seldom used in connection with Wales. But Wales too has her highlands, where we find people who live almost entirely some 1000ft or more above sea-level. I refer to the wide range of mountains which divides Radnorshire and Breconshire from Cardiganshire together with the people who inhabit these grassy expanses so well described lately in these pages by Mr Daniel Davies, Ton.

Small holdings and farms can be seen scattered here and there on this wide plain – although fewer now than formerly – where, from generation to generation there has dwelt, a race of people who have remained more faithful to old Welsh customs than their lowland brothers, a race of people with characteristics and habits peculiar to themselves. Nevertheless, these people differ among themselves in certain respects, for example, while the western side is completely Welsh speaking, the eastern slopes have been subjected to English influences, so that while shepherds on the one side work their dogs in Welsh the dogs on the other side are worked in English. Neighbours, whose animals graze side by side, attend places of worship situated as far as 12 miles apart and while some of these speak English in Builth Wells market, others do their buying and selling in Welsh in Tregaron market. We, in the lowlands, refer to these Welsh people as “the people of the mountains” and it is natural that the chapel on the river Camddwr where these dwellers congregate to worship is called “Soar of the Mountains”.

But my intention was to give an account of a funeral in these highlands. Of all our national characteristics nothing is more peculiar to us than our funeral customs and in the mountains there are particular reasons why these old customs have survived without being influenced in any way by outside agencies.

On the morning of the first Sunday in the year 1876, at Bethesda Chapel, Llandewi Brefi, Tomor Lloyd, having made the usual announcements, made a further announcement somewhat as follows:

“The funeral of Shan, wife of John Jones, Pysgotwr, will take place next Wednesday. Mr Abraham Oliver will preach at the house at 10.30 and the burial will be in the church of Llandewi Abergwesyn.”

Jac and Shan Pysgotwr were two people who lived in the mountains. It is from warm-hearted respect that I give them the familiar names by which they were known to their neighbours. Shan came of a family from the borders of Breconshire and Radnorshire – the burial place of her ancestors was at Abergwesyn and there too she wished to go. Jac came from the valley of the Upper Towy and the story goes that when Shan was the senior maid at Nant-yr-euch he used to visit the farm to court the junior maid. On his arrival there one evening, after the usual greetings, Shan came to tell him that her junior was not at home, and somehow from that night onwards Shan, the senior maid, became Jac’s sweetheart.

They got married and after several moves from place to place, eventually settled down in Pysgotwr, and it was there Shan ended her days at the age of 85. They lived a quiet simple life throughout their long span and according to what I can gather the main ambitions of their lives were: to be hospitable to the stranger, to help the poor, to pay the old debt before incurring the new, and when the end came to leave sufficient to settle all accounts, and to have an oak coffin and a gravestone. And all their hopes were fulfilled. When I returned home after the service on that Sunday morning they announced Shan’s funeral, I could hear my father and mother, while at dinner, speaking of the old lady as if no one but they were present. At the end of their discussion my father glanced towards the long table where I and some others were partaking and said, “You must attend Shan’s funeral, they will need help to carry”. The news of the old lady’s death was no occasion for rejoicing but at the same time I could not suppress a smile because a funeral was almost the only excuse for a “day out” for a spirited and healthy lad. It was not long before I found company for the journey, namely our genial neighbour, Joseph Morgan the shopkeeper, who was the family’s “universal provider”. And so, on a fair winter’s morning, we set out from Llandewi. I was in my element, riding a high-spirited cob that was to be sold at Garon Fair the following March: neither horse nor rider one would think had a care in the world.

From the village of Llanddew our path was to the east along the bank of the River Brefi, rising to that part of the mountains which forms the watershed dividing the waters of the Teifi from those of the Brefi. It was along this path that Rowland, Llangeitho, travelled on his way to Ystrad Ffin and in his lament for Rowland Williams, Pantycelyn, refers to these mountains as the Dewi Hills and the name is most appropriate for to the west stands Llandewi Brefi and to the east Llandewi Abergwesyn, with, in between the two places, some 18 miles of wild mountainous country.

In order to cross the shoulder of Bryn Caregog we had to climb over 1000 feet, then we descended to a spot where, within the short distance of about 100 yards, five small streams unite. This is the beginning of the river Pysgotwr. Near the same spot, where about the same number of roads and paths meet is a place called Postgwyn, named (it is said) after a fingerpost that stood there once upon a time, but the old post with its directions had disappeared years before we passed there that morning. Old Daniel Jones, Y Bryn, used to say that he remembered seeing the remains of the fingerpost there in his young days. What fitter site for a fingerpost? Not a house within miles, and how different from the idea of the present generation, which is to place fingerposts near towns, villages, stations. I see no reason for this, other than the rules bearing of good manners, namely, that to ask a question of a fellowship to whom one has not been formally introduced is gross effrontery.

After leaving Postgwyn we followed the river Pysgotwr for about a mile and arrived at the home of Shan and Jac where the neighbours had congregated. Here the bier had been brought the day before on the backs of little mountain ponies (how, I cannot say). It was a lonely place. If a circle of 4 miles radius were drawn with Pysgotwr as centre, less than 70 souls, counting men, women and children, would be found living within its limits. Hence, one could not expect the congregation to be a large one.

The Reverend Abraham Oliver had already arrived and while those who proposed carrying Shan to her distant resting place were taking a little nourishment, he delivered the funeral sermon to the old people, the women and children of the neighbourhood. It was not the numbers of mourners nor the costliness of the mourning apparel that was the dominant feature of the funeral but it’s pure, unostentatious simplicity.

The sermon over, we set out for the place of burial some 12 miles away. At the head of the procession, riding a shaggy pony with a horse-hair halter was Nathaniel, Y Ddinas, an old neighbour of Shan’s. He led the way, holding a long hazel stick in his hand like the sword of a general, and indeed he was a general for it was his duty to decide the route our journey was to take along this vast pathless expanse, and how long each team of four bearers was to carry its burden. Nathaniel’s judgement on the latter important problem was not determined by distance or by time: if the way was fairly level the team had good measure, but if the path was rough the measure was shorter. Careful judgement, sound common sense and a good eye for country were Nathaniel’s strong points, and of these we had ample proof before our journey was over.

Before we had gone 100 yards from the house we turned eastward where a long slope faced us. Every ditch was full of water and every bog was dangerous to both man and horse, but in spite of all these difficulties everybody was in a good mood as we now climbed the high mountain which separates the Pysgotwr valley from that of the Doethie. The number of bearers was but 20, and eight of us would ride in turns and lead the remaining horses for all would be mounted on the return journey that evening.

We soon reached Maes-y-Betws where it was necessary to decide which team of four bearers would ford the rivers. After crossing the two Doethie rivers we faced the mountain and climbed Rhiw’r Gelynen, or Rhiw’r Gelynion (as some call it). The ancient paths and tracks in these mountains are very steep and fall sharply sometimes, for they were intended for sledges and are still used as such. Such a one was Rhiw’r Gelynen and it was not surprising now, to notice that progress was slower with conversation very much on the wane.

Before reaching the crest of the mountain the path turned south along the ridge for a short distance and below us was Cwm Nant-Y-Benglog with a lonely house of the same name at the bottom of the steep valley. When he travelled along this path some years previously, Cerngoch composed the following verse:

Behold a rugged “cwm”

That only cat or hare could climb:

O spare me from rearing children

Within sigh of Nant-Y-Benglog!

The old bard had lost a child there through accident a short while before this and the place must be seen before the full meaning of the verse can be sensed.

In spite of the extreme cold at the bottom of this steep valley we found the ascent out of it warm work and when we reached yet another crest, the Camddwr valley opened out before us. As we descended towards the river the path took us near Soar chapel and I recollect well what struck me most forcibly at the time was the similarity in size between the Chapel itself, the caretaker’s house and the stable. This equality of size seems particularly appropriate; and I leave it to the reader’s imagination to find out the circumstances which call for it.

(The writer implies that the size of the congregation in such an isolated chapel was so small that the chapel and stabling for the worshipper’s horses did not need to be any larger than a house. J.)

After leaving the Chapel the way improved compared with what had been our lot till then and our General was quick to take advantage, for he signaled the changes with his stick less frequently. The carrying now was easier and Nathaniel at the head worked his legs on either side like two wings moving in rhythm with the movements of the pony. Nature too seemed to have taken a hand by cleaving a way through the back of the merciless mountain, and once again we lost sight of Cwm Camddwr while Cwm Tywi opened out before us. But before we take a last look at the old chapel I must quote Cerngoch’s verse:

On the banks of the Camddwr river

Stands a temple to our Saviour;

Whoever comes over such country

Proves himself a true Worshipper.

Shan was one of the ‘true worshippers’ all her life, and she had great regard for Soar but she wished to return to her own people for her last long rest: and in this respect she remained a typical Welsh-woman.

As the panorama of the Towy valley opened out before us we saw ahead Pant-y-Clwydau on the eastern bank of the river. The way to Abergwesyn ran along a small brook that had scooped a bed for itself down the mountain side and after crossing the Towy we climbed Rhiw-yr-Yeb (as it is called). This was far the steepest place where I ever shouldered a bier and indeed I almost believed that Shan had become much heavier in the course of the journey. To this day I consider that it was a feat to have carried Shan up this steep incline and Cefn Coch, the mountain that Rhiw’r Yeb was but a preliminary test.

Eventually we reached the top whence, for more than 3 miles we covered places so rough there was not a sheep track even for us to follow for any distance, but we felt perfectly safe under the leadership of Nathaniel who soon brought us within sight of the Irfon Valley. My spirits rose once again as Abergwesyn and the end of the journey appeared in the distance, and as we went downwards to the church through Llwynderw woods I placed my shoulder under Shan’s coffin for the 47th time. By now everybody – both man and beast – presented a worn-out appearance and as the sun disappeared behind the mountains it cast long shadows across the valley.

We turned into the graveyard and passed through the doorway of the ancient church. There were signs of neglect everywhere in the churchyard and in the church itself the walls were bare and the roof had fallen in except for a small portion that remained above the rickety pulpit. The priest went through the service with due solemnity and never, I am convinced, did he face a more sober congregation; and while he spoke of the sure and certain hope of eternal life I confess that my mind wandered back to my father’s house in Cardiganshire the other side of the mountain over which I had plodded my weary way till the end of the day. Shan’s grave was filled and I bid it farewell feeling that I had faithfully fulfilled my duty by her. After nourishment (for man and beast) we set out on our return journey across the mountain and arrived home shortly after midnight.

After making a fair reckoning of ascents and descents made during the outward and return journey, I consider it as if we had carried the bier and corpse over Snowdon from Portmadoc to Llanberis and back again. How different were the feelings of the rider, and his poor mount too I fear, on the return journey. I felt so heavy that I wondered how my horse could bear up beneath me, and the horse, poor creature, walked as clumsily as an old 15/- hack from Rhos Fair.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

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:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

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Could this be the greatest Indie achievement of all time?

Indie authors have been around for longer than you may think…

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Dr Joseph Wright, born at Thackley, near Bradford, on October 31st 1855, was known in his time as the outstanding authority on dialect. Realising that dialects were fast disappearing, he created The English Dialect Dictionary which ran to six immense volumes. Publishers, however, shied away from it and Joseph decided to self-publish from his Oxford home and achieved instant success. The volumes contained over 5,000 pages, recorded approximately 100,000 words and some 500,000 quotations. The total cost of production was estimated at £25,000. He was already respected as one of the greatest philologists of his time and occupied the Corpus Christi Chair at Oxford, but when he died on February 27th, 1930, it was for his dictionary he wanted to be remembered.

Joseph’s life was remarkable in many ways. This brilliant scholar began his life in the workhouse. His father, Dufton Wright, was the son of a wealthy farmer, but Dufton was a ne’er-do-well who worked as a wool-weaver, then as a quarryman, and upped and left his wife and children to the care of the parish.

At the age of six, Joseph was working as a donkey-boy. At the age of seven, he was a bobbin-doffer at the Soltaire Mills of Sir Titus Salt. For the first fourteen years of his life, Joseph lived in a one-room hovel with his mother and siblings – when not in the workhouse. He had no education until the age of ten, when he went to the Saltaire factory school for half-timers. There, he learned the alphabet, some arithmetic, and part of the scriptures.

When his time as a half-time student ended, he began to educate himself and at the age of eighteen he set up an evening school in his mother’s cottage while working by day at the mills.

In 1876, he spent the money he had saved to travel to Germany where he studied for eleven weeks, and returned to Bradford as a junior teacher. In 1878, he matriculated from London University.

How did I discover the rags-to-riches story of Dr Joseph Wright? I bought a couple of antique books entitled The Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, in two volumes, published 1904, compiled by a Thomas Wright. Within the age-spotted pages, many of which were still uncut, I found a newspaper cutting, dated 29th October 1955, which was written to coincide with the centenary weekend being celebrated 100 years after Dr Joseph Wright’s birth.

Further to reading the newspaper article about Joseph, I have found more about him on Wikepedia. He was an important influence on J. R. R. Tolkien, and in the course of editing the Dictionary he corresponded regularly with my literary hero, Thomas Hardy. Virginia Woolf said of him in her diary, “The triumph of learning is that it leaves something done solidly for ever. Everybody knows now about dialect, owing to his dixery.”

In 1896, Wright married Elizabeth Mary Lea (1863–1958), with whom he co-authored his Old and Middle English Grammars. She also wrote the book, Rustic Speech and Folklore (Oxford University Press 1913), in which she makes reference to their various walking and cycle trips into the Yorkshire Dales, as well as various articles and essays.The couple had two children, both of whom died in childhood. (Source; Wikepedia)

The dictionaries I have are chock full of all manner of weird and wonderful words and phrases no longer in usage, or words of which the meanings have radically changed over time.

To kick things off, here are a few words chosen from the dictionary for your delectation;

The delightful phrase, ALAS-A-DAY, was an exclamation of pity.

I recall AJAX being a toilet cleaner some years ago but its association goes back a long way. Sir John Harrington, 1596, published a celebrated tract called “The Metamorphosis of Ajax” which referred to his invention which was the improvement of the ‘jakes’ or privy into a ‘water-closet’. The book was considered an offence to delicacy for which Queen Elizabeth kept him for some time in disgrace.

ABRODIETICALL, adj.  described “A daintie feeder or delicate person (taken from Minsheu’s Guide of Tongues, 1627).

AFTERMATH once referred to the second crop of grass.

AGATEWARDS, adv. To go agatewards with someone was to accompany him part of his way home, which was considered the last duty of hospitality towards a guest.

An AGINATOUR was a hawker of small wares. This word occurs in Cockeram’s English Dictionairie, 1639.

To AMUSE once had a very different meaning in some dialects, and referred to the action of flinging dust or snuff into the eyes of the person intended to be robbed.

An ANATHEMATISM was a curse.

Further reading about Dr Joseph Wright’s life and works can be found here; http://ow.ly/uEs1s

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

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:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

 

 

A journey in search of a stolen life.

 

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This cross was hand-carved by my daughter to mark my grandmother’s grave.

My grandmother, Annie, died in 1959 and the marking of her grave also marked the end of a journey which began some years ago; a journey to discover the truth buried beneath the wreckage of Annie’s life.

I requested and obtained permission to view the records that were kept by Talgarth Mental Asylum when my grandmother, Annie, was incarcerated there for 18 years of her life, from 1930. The victim of terrible domestic violence, her husband had Annie committed for depression. Annie was taken from her nine children, one of them still a babe in arms. The records show that she tried to escape to get home to her children but was captured and taken back.

My mother grew up believing Annie didn’t want to come home to them because that was the lie their father told them.

The records made for harrowing reading. I spent a day in the archives, faithfully recording every entry in that massive, leather bound tome, and did not allow myself to weep until the journey home. I vowed I would write her story one day. It is a promise I intend to keep. I didn’t write it at that time because it was too close to my heart, too harrowing, just too overwhelming in every way.

My day at the archives was the end of a long journey which had begun with researching my family history and ended with a burning passion to write fictional stories portraying the real difficulties faced by women in the past, the culmination of which is my three novels in the Megan Jones trilogy.

Here is an extract from my journal, recorded on the emotional day I went in search of Annie’s birthplace;

At the end of the farm lane I saw a signpost and my heart leaped with hope because I’d imagined the old place would  be no more than a derelict pile of stones in some isolated place. As I drove up the track, with the wind blowing and the April sun breaking through the clouds, a flock of crows rose up, as one, from the field. Flying against the wind, they twisted and turned overhead before soaring away and my spirits soared at the sight of them. The mass of the Eppynt mountain loomed ahead as the lane steepened towards a brow in the hill. I felt a tug of the heart and a sob rose in my throat – on the edge, as I was, of arriving at the place where dear Annie’s life began.

Sadly, on my arrival I was to discover that nothing remained of the house where Annie was born. It had been demolished to make way for cowsheds. It is symbolic, in a way, because the life my granny Annie expected to live was raised to the ground, obliterated, as surely and ruthlessly as the house where she was born.

My family history, like all history, is liberally sprinkled with women whose lives were blighted; by the inequalities of society or through the neglect, stupidity or downright cruelty of others – a pattern I’ve seen repeated in my own life.

Most of what I know of Annie comes from the stories of other people who knew her, and from the medical records of the asylum.  The medical records state bald facts, which in the light of all else I know, are all the more distressing.

My granny had beautiful black hair of which she was very proud. By day, she wore it plaited and rolled into a bun at the nape of her neck. At night, she undid that plait and let her hair fall down. It was so long, she could sit on it and with the help of her little girls, it was given 100 brush strokes, every night before bed.

When she was carted away to the asylum, she believed she was going to have a short rest. Her nightmare began on arrival. The first thing they did was to chop off her hair, her beautiful long mane of glossy, black hair. It was a standard procedure; head lice being rife in such institutions, long hair would pick them up and spread them like wild fire.

She must have been a stunner, Annie, before hard toil, nine children, and a poor diet ravaged her. It was noted in their ledger that she had grey eyes; a stunning combination with that long black hair. She was underweight and undernourished and had an overactive thyroid. She was on her last legs when she entered that place and they all but knocked her legs from beneath her.

What hellish place must she have thought she’d been brought to? This was no rest home, no holiday, this was hell itself. She tells them a mistake has been made and they must let her go immediately; home to her children who would be worrying where their Mam had gone.

She tells them why she has been unable to cease crying (the reason given for her admission); that her husband knocked her about and threatened to kill her. The following are some of the comments written in their ledger, repeated year after year.

“She is suffering from delusional psychosis. States that prior to admission, her husband desired to get rid of her and had made several attempts on her life.”

“Her delusions change little as time goes on. She still believes her husband was trying to get rid of her and made serious attempts on her life.”

“She remains much the same mentally. She gives a very poor account of herself. She continues to state that her husband used to knock her about a great deal and several times threatened to kill her.”

For eighteen years, every time she was interviewed by a psychiatrist, Annie told them the same story about her husband. Every time she told it, it was seen as evidence of her delusional madness.

The tragedy is that she spoke the truth. Her husband was a brutal man and he had, indeed, knocked her about for years, and attempted to murder her, strangling her by the throat in one of his rages. He would have succeeded if he had not been dragged off by his oldest daughter and two sons.

It was her husband who was the lunatic, and he had succeeded in carrying out his threat to get rid of her, not by killing her but by having her incarcerated in the asylum he should have been in himself. The reason for her committal was her continuous crying. One of the psychiatrists described her, unsympathetically, as emotionally unstable, confused, and lachrymose. I’m sure if he had been in her shoes, he would have been all those things himself, would not have diagnosed himself as insane but as showing a normal response to the irrational and abusive treatment meted out by her husband.

Annie suffered a most terrible injustice. She should have been protected but instead she was locked up in the asylum in 1930 and did not get out until 1948. Cold blooded murderers do less time. Annie suffered what she did, for as long as she did, because she spoke her truth.  She had no idea that in speaking the truth, she was providing them with the ‘evidence’ to back up their misguided theories as to her mental state.

I would like to be able to say that such injustices were few and far between, but in truth they were all too common. As recently as 2007, a lady of 85 years of age was finally traced by her family, 70 years after being committed to an asylum in 1937, under the 1890 Lunacy Act. She was 15 when she was committed for the ‘crime’ of stealing half a crown from the doctor’s surgery where she worked as a cleaner. The money was later found, but too late for this poor girl. She spent the rest of her life being shunted from one mental institution to another, until she was moved to a care home in her old age.

Many of these dreadful places were closed down towards the end of the 20th century. Stories abound of how these elderly ladies then being released had been placed there as young girls of fourteen or fifteen, for the ‘crime’ of having illegitimate babies. Yet, no man was ever imprisoned for having fathered one.

So many lives were never lived. Such cruelties were commonplace. Before her death in 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft was writing a novel entitled Maria; The Wrongs of Woman. The novel’s heroine, Maria, has been placed in a madhouse by an abusive husband who seeks to control her money and her liberty for his own ends. In those days, it was only too easy for a man with money to have his unwanted wife committed to a privately paid asylum.

The parallels between Annie’s story and Wollstonecraft’s heroine, Maria, are obvious. Both were sent to the madhouse by duplicitous husbands and for spurious reasons. I’m sure Mary Wollstonecraft must have hoped that one hundred and fifty years after her death such things would not still be happening. In Annie’s case, it seems that her continued incarceration for so many years was due to laziness on the part of those who could have properly helped her; they chose not to investigate whether what she was saying was true, and chose instead to reaffirm their own misguided beliefs.

There is no changing the past. What is done cannot be undone. But I hope that in the telling of Annie’s truth some small piece of justice will finally be hers.

Incidentally, the mental asylum that played such a part in the demolition of my granny’s life, was itself demolished in 2011.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow      The Calling of the Raven updated book cover      Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

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/i1sy302jXXK

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse