Rich and poor

Two hundred years ago, on the 3rd of June, 1818, my 5 x great grandmother, Gwen, died in a ty-unnos near Strata Florida, Cardiganshire. Her husband, Rees, died a month later. They were in their fifties. One month later, their oldest son Thomas died aged 30 leaving a wife and two small children. This blog post is written on 4th June, 2018, and dedicated to them. They survived extraordinary times only to die under tragic circumstances. Theirs is a poignant tale which amply demonstrates how callous, political decisions can wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary, hardworking people.

Rees was born on a remote farmstead called Hafodeidos and took over this tenant farm from his father, Thomas, when he married Gwen. The last of their children to be born at Hafodeidos was in 1797 because by 1802 they had been dispossessed of this farm and their next and last child was born in a ty-unnos in the first of many of these ‘houses-built-in-a-night’ on nearby common land. Rees was the first to build a ty-unnos on this squatter’s settlement where upwards of twenty such dwellings were eventually built. His son, Hugh, my 4 x grandfather, would also build a ty-unnos here when he married his wife, Mary, in 1811. Hugh and Mary raised nine children here.

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According to R.U.Sayce, long moonlit winter’s nights were the favoured times for building ty-unnos. So, on such a winter’s night, Rees and Gwen and their friends would have laid rough stonework foundations and a chimney end, and a framework on this interwoven with stout laths, covered with clay, and smeared with lime-plaster. Timber for the framework came from local woods. Thatch for the roof would have been gathered beforehand. The door and window would have been made in advance, ready to put in place. All materials would have been hidden nearby prior to building. At dawn, the fire was lit and the curl of smoke from the chimney meant the building was complete. The amount of land around the house was determined by the distance the occupant could throw an axe.

The original ty-unnos would have been a flimsy dwelling and was quickly replaced by a more permanent stone-built dwelling over subsequent months. It is the remains of these stone-built dwellings which survive at this squatter’s settlement.

In Radnorshire, they were called ‘Morning Surprise’ – a very apt name as it would have been a great surprise to any passer-by to see a house standing where there was none the day before!

At the time when Rees and Gwen were forced to leave Hafodeidos and live on common land, land agents had begun to take a tougher line with tenants and made in-roads into reducing the length of leases. Custom had long been that leases lasted for 3 generations, i.e. father, son, grandson or father, widow, son. To gain more control over farming practices, agents sought fixed terms. Twenty-one-year leases became more normal but what the landowners and agents were aiming for and eventually succeeded in achieving was for annual renewal.

According to W.J. Lewis, rents per acre rose dramatically in this period during the Napoleonic wars. In Strata Florida, land which had been let for 5 shillings per acre in 1790 had risen to 45 shillings per acre by 1815, while prices fetched for the cattle, horses and pigs the farmers reared fell to between a half and a quarter of the previous years. Great quantities of imported grain and American flour drove prices down further. The years between 1795 and 1802 were also marked by a series of very poor harvests.

Ty-unnos squatters were often referred to by wealthy landowners as ‘the scum of the earth’. Yet, it was these large estate owners who were by far the greatest encroachers and grabbers of the commons, moors and waste lands owned by the Crown, increasing their estates by pushing back the boundary lines and enclosing previously unenclosed lands. But the wealthy were also the lawmakers, able to bring in laws which legitimised the enclosures of common land while outlawing the poor for doing the same. In the words of Alfred Russell Wallace, it was “legalised robbery of the poor for the aggrandisement of the rich who are the lawmakers”.

The disparaging view of the squatters held by the landed gentry is challenged by a study carried out by Jemma Bezant and Kevin Grant. Speaking of the settlement which Rees and Gwen began, they say this squatter settlement went on to prosper into the later 19th century with a total of about 20 dwellings on the site. Originally, they had been one or two-celled, stone-built cottages but by the late 19th century many had acquired brick lined windows, proper chimneys and staircases leading to a second storey. The ‘squatters’ were said to be well-educated, some described as scholars and collectively they had constructed a Calvinist Methodist Chapel to administer to the whole community. The chapel, too, is derelict now, though it shows signs of an abandoned restoration.

And so it was that the poorest in society were demonised and blamed for their predicament, even while it was political decisions which created the circumstances of their poverty and kept them poor, while the wealthiest in society were made ever richer. History repeats itself with alarming banality.

I am immensely proud of these remarkable ancestors who were so resourceful amid times of great hardship. Simon Fairlie, in his Short History of Enclosure in Britain, explains how the poor were able to survive off their rough patch of common land. Here is an extract from his article:

A poor cow providing a gallon of milk per day in season brought in half the equivalent of a labourer’s annual wage and geese at Otmoor could bring in the equivalent of a full time wage. Commoners sheep were smaller, but hardier, easier to lamb and with higher quality wool, just like present day Shetlands, which are described by their breed society as “primitive and unimproved”. An acre of gorse — derided as worthless scrub by advocates of improved pasture — was worth 45s 6d as fuel for bakers or lime kilns at a time when labourers’ wages were a shilling a day. On top of that, the scrub or marsh yielded innumerable other goods, including reed for thatch, rushes for light, firewood, peat, sand, plastering material, herbs, medicines, nuts and berries.

In 1820, William Cobbett wrote the following; “Those who are so eager for the new inclosure, seem to argue as if the wasteland in its present state produced nothing at all. But is this the fact? Can anyone point out a single inch of it which does not produce something and the produce of which is made use of? It goes to the feeding of sheep, of cows of all descriptions . . . and it helps to rear, in health and vigour, numerous families of the children of the labourers, which children, were it not for these wastes, must be crammed into the stinking suburbs of towns?”

Women, too, were able to derive extra income for their families from the commons -from carrying loads of peat from the moors to sell at the coast, to gathering wool shed by sheep on the mountain wastes. I can testify there is certainly no shortage of peat on this common land as I had to walk through half a mile of peat-bog to get to the settlement. It is slowly reclaiming the small parcels of land which were once cultivated here.

Rees and Gwen survived by hard work and making the best they could in times of great adversity. They would have been entirely dependent for food from whatever they could grow and provide for themselves from the small parcel of land they cultivated around their ty-unnos, while making some income from casual summer labour on nearby farms or from the selling of peat and gorse gleaned from the common.

Having survived in this way for over sixteen years, they were to be finally defeated following events which occurred on the other side of the world, in a place they would have known nothing about.

In 1815, there was a massive eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia. The following summer of 1816, there was a ‘volcanic winter’ dubbed ‘the summer that never was’ and it preceded widespread famine across Europe. In Wales, it was said to have caused terrible suffering for hill farmers and dwellers. By 1817, another summer of poor weather, many of the poor were wandering around the Cardiganshire countryside begging food and work at the houses of gentry.

On 7th June that year, a David Williams of Bronmeurig was moved to write of the distress of the hungry poor. Bronmeurig is only a couple of miles north west of the settelement. He stated;

‘ …the imagination cannot conceive the prevalent distress – none but those who witness it can conceive its extent and its intensity…The farmer cannot employ the labourer because he has neither Corn, Money nor Credit to give as recompense for work done….the whole of the labouring population is out of employment and have been these last six months…The poor are attempting to prolong life by swallowing barley meal with water – boiling nettles etc – and scores in the agonies of famine have declared to me this last week that they have not made a meal for two days together….hundreds have therefore been in the constant habit of begging from door to door….I fear half the labouring poor will perish as things are, before next harvest in this neighbourhood…I have witnessed scenes of distress and wailing and lamentation and ungovernable ebullitions of rage prompted by the severest suffering…that my memory will bear the impression wherever I go and as long as I live.’

To add insult to injury, the Black Act of 1723 was still in force. This most vicious Act against the poor was brought in by Walpole. It made the poaching of wild game a hanging offence in Britain and was in response to gangs of poachers who blackened their faces to avoid detection – hence the name. Thus, it became as great a crime to kill a wild rabbit for food as it was to commit murder. To add to the injustice, the landowning gentry were granted license to hunt wild animals for sport, while a hungry man desperate to feed his family could be hung for killing a rabbit, even if it crossed his garden.

Rees and Gwen and their children would have suffered unimaginable hardship and hunger. In the summer of 1818, within weeks of each other, Rees and Gwen Jones and their son, Thomas, died at the squatter’s settlement. Causes of death were not recorded in the parish registers but were most likely to have been the succumbing to disease precipitated by weakness due to the preceding famine.

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The little river which runs below the settlement. 

Rees and Gwen’s son Hugh, my 4 x grandfather, and his wife Mary, survived these terrible times and my 3 x grandfather Rees was born at the squatter’s settlement in 1820. Hugh and Mary moved to Brynbedw in the parish of Tirabad in the 1830’s. Hugh was a shepherd and Mary was a healer of some renown. Their son, my 3 x grandfather Rees, worked in Abergwesyn as a shepherd. Here he met and fell in love with Mary Jenkins of Penybont Uchaf. Their children, including my 2 x grandfather, Hugh, were born at Blaengwenol. Their daughter, Mary, was the grandmother of the Anglo-Welsh poet, Harri Jones. I have no doubt that the writing gene has come from this side of my family and is one for which I shall be forever grateful.

In the 1870’s, Rees and Mary moved to Llanerchyrfa along the stunningly beautiful Abergwesyn pass on the mountain road between Abergwesyn and Tregaron. Mary died here, and their two youngest daughters died here, aged just 23 and 28.

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Two hundred years on, I wanted to pay my respects and visit the squatter’s settlement where these ancestors lived and died. It was quite an adventure to find this place and very moving to finally stand within the remains of where they lived and died.

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Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical 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:

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

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

 

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A Call to Arms. #Powys #Wales #sayNOtowindfarms #Cymru

I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing held sacred anymore in this world of endlessly growing consumption, fueled by the greed of a minority and their pursuit of wealth by any means.

Many of you may not have heard what the Welsh Government and Powys are now planning for us, the people of Breconshire and Radnorshire. Their ‘further focussed changes’ (October 2016) development plan threatens our familiar and beloved landscapes of Abergwesyn Common, the Begwns, Pant-y-llyn Hill, Merthyr Cynog, Drum Ddu, also, the hills around Llandegley, Abbey-cwm-hir, Hirnant – all now designated ‘Local Search Areas’ for wind development.

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Llandegley Rocks

Oh, and if that were not bad enough, great swathes of our hillsides will be obliterated by solar ‘parks’ – solar ‘Local Search Areas’ reach from one side of the county to the other below Newtown. Nantmel, Llanbister, and Aberedw will be encircled – vast acres of hillside will be covered with industrial scale solar panels. If the developers get their way, not one among us will be unaffected by such changes. Let’s face it, people don’t come to live here or remain here, or holiday here for the weather. They are here, mainly, out of love for our beautiful, wild spaces with their kites, buzzards, curlews and skylarks and the quiet, rural way of life.

In addition to the decimation of our landscapes via turbines and solar panels with all the associated damage to wildlife, bird-life, habitat and human well-being, there will come the disruption to our roads, massive transportation lorries, tracks across our hilltops, pylons – in short, the wholesale industrialisation and rape of our beautiful, wild and green spaces.

The people of Breconshire have had so much taken from them over the years; glorious Eppynt taken by the military; our water polluted and wildlife and birds robbed of thousands of acres of moorland habitat, planted by the Forestry Commission; whole communities uprooted and valleys flooded to provide water for others, not ourselves. And now, are we to have the best of what we have left desecrated to line the coffers of the main beneficiaries – a handful of landowners selling us out and the multi-billion pound companies who would smother every Welsh hillside with their giant monstrosities for their own gain?

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Eppynt

When considering the human costs, let us not forget that it is not only the unspoiled beauty and tranquility of these landscapes that will be lost to us. Our unchanged landscapes inherently represent our heritage, our identity, and our history. Rob us of our familiar landscapes and you rob us of an essential part of those vital things which give our lives meaning and continuity. Our lives will be the poorer in many more ways if we allow this to happen. We will suffer a psychological disconnect between the past and the present when our inter-generational connections to the landscape are severed.

I am sickened by the relentless march of what some call ‘progress’ which tramples all in its wake. I belong to a generation who I’m ashamed to say has done more damage to this planet in fifty years than all the generations who have gone before.Vast areas of our oceans are now littered with plastic and this littering of our landscapes with the proliferation of wind farms across this fabulous county is spectacular visible evidence of escalating human greed on a scale hitherto unknown. Do I care about the environment? Yes, I do. Do I care about carbon emissions? Yes, I do. Do I believe these hulking, inefficient, unreliable turbines are a cure for the disease? I do not.

When will it end? When there is not one windswept hill left without turbines and every slope has been covered in industrial solar panels? This latest change in policy proves that this search and push for more is relentless. The proliferation of wind farms across the country is a symptom of, not a cure for, the problem. Some years down the line, we’ll be back at square one and will have sacrificed our rural idylls for nought because they contribute too little towards our energy needs and an insignificant effect on carbon emissions. The loss of our upland habitats and their role in carbon sequestration means that replacing them with wind and solar farms that do a far less efficient job of reducing emissions is counter-productive madness.

Under the Welfare of Future Generations Act we have a duty to consider the impacts of our actions in the present on future generations. When, one day in the future, these great, hulking turbines and all their associated financial, human and environmental costs are finally outmoded and debunked, what will happen then? Will the renewable energy companies honour their obligation to dismantle and remove these monstrosities from our landscapes when their only consideration is profit? Or will we be left with these rusting giants littering our landscapes for ever more? Call me cynical, but I’ve lived long enough to know that the latter is the highly more likely outcome. They’d opt to pay the fines rather than dismantle. And that will be our legacy to future generations. I don’t think they’ll be thanking us for that. It is reckless and irresponsible in the extreme of government to continue with the proliferation of wind and solar farms without consideration for a future when they will have been replaced with newer technologies.

Government is famous for short-sighted policy making. Government, local and national, now urgently needs to take a step back and a serious re-think before it is too late. Once they are up, they are not coming down again, ever.

If you love and value our Welsh landscapes, our wildlife, our way of life, our heritage, our history, and value our deep and historical connections to this fabulous green heartland we are so privileged to live in, then I urge you to answer this call to arms to defend and preserve what is left. If our collective voice of objection is big enough, they will not have any choice but to hear it. So, please take up your swords (well, your pens or keyboards, anyway), and do one or preferably all of the following: write to your county councilor, write to your assembly member, register your objection with Powys, join CPRW (Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales). We have only until 5pm, Monday 21st November to do this. Thank you.

For more information and guidance, follow this link and look under current news:

http://www.cprw.org.uk/

The relevant pages on Powys’s website: http://ow.ly/lw2I305TGJO

 

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

 

A ghostly encounter on a journey into the past…..

I have never been afraid of ghosts, not even as a child growing up in a reputedly haunted house. In fact, I was thrilled and fascinated by the stories of an older sister who told of her too-close encounters with our resident ghost. The living have often scared me, but not the dead. My lack of fear is just as well, given what happened to me when I went in search of a house where my ancestors once lived, an experience which is the subject of this post.

My journey to find my Welsh ancestors spanned two and half years, hundreds of hours of research, and culminated in the writing of three historical novels. When I began the journey, I never imagined what it would lead to. Of all the journeys I have made, it was the most moving, surprising, and inspiring of all.

Along the way, I had experiences which reignited my faith in there being more to our existence than can be explained away and diminished by science. The experience I shall write about here is an extract from the notebooks I kept at the time.

It was a journey in search of the place where my great-great grandmother had her illegitimate child taken from her to be boarded with a woman who took in these poor children for a living. When this great-great grandmother got married some years later, her daughter was brought home by her uncle Morgan to live with him and his housekeeper.

This story was to spark my imagination and lead to my writing historical fiction. The great-great grandmother, her brother Morgan, and her daughter, were immortalised as Megan, Morgan and Fortune in Leap the Wild Water, The Calling of the Raven and Anywhere the Wind Blows.

My journey to find the place where they’d lived, Caegwyn, was possibly both the eeriest and strangest of all. Its location on the old map showed it to be as remote as any place can be, high up on the top of the central hills of Abergwesyn. The modern map showed it to have been swallowed up by the dark, lifeless and ever-growing forests of the Forestry Commission. So I set out on the journey with little hope of finding much more than rubble. It seemed to me that ‘progress’ had wiped out all before it in its march, including the homes of my ancestors.

I park the car by Beulah Church, don waterproofs and walking boots, and hoist my rucksack on my back. It’s a blustery day, patches of blue sky disappearing and reappearing between threatening, pregnant clouds.

I take the track that goes past Caemawr and past the ruins of what was once Cefngardis farmhouse. Just above the ruins, this track joins the ancient, green ridge-road that comes up from Aberannell farm and over the hills of Abergwesyn, and goes all the way to Cardigan. It was the old drover’s route in the days before the railways came. Thousands of Welsh cattle and geese trod this route, over hundreds of years, to be sold in the markets of England.

I walk up this track under a canopy of trees which border the track on both sides. Then the avenue of trees comes to an end and the track goes over open hill before skirting craggy rocks. The hill falls away steeply on my right, smothered with ancient oak trees. I walk until I reach a summit on the track and stop to look down the valley that opens up below me. Way down at the foot of the hill, nestles the old farmstead of Tycwm. Up the valley sits Lloftybardd and further still, in the distance, the little chapel of Pantycelin where many of my ancestors are buried. From up here on this mountain, the shiny, black gravestones in the modern part of the graveyard resemble rows of black-clothed mourners at a funeral.

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I sit on a crag of rock looking down on this vista that my ancestors had looked down on before me, though there was no forestry then to blacken the hills and pollute the waters. From the buzzard’s-view on my perch, I see the mansion of Llwynmadoc in the direction from which I’ve come. The sun breaks through the clouds and a rainbow appears behind Llwynmadoc, over the beautiful hill of Garnwen, flooded with colour and sunlight.

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The dark clouds, which have been threatening over the horizon for the past half hour, choose to burst as they arrive over my head. I sit on my perch, eating my lunch, while being battered by rain and buffeted by the wind.

I don’t know how much further I have to walk, so set off briskly. In the distance ahead, the edges of the great forestry loom, and in front of me the track forks indecisively. The clouds pass away leaving a brilliant blue sky in their wake. A flock of twittering, chattering birds come flying from behind me, passing me by with a whoosh, and dipping and darting along the path ahead. The birds follow the left hand fork in the track and pause to perch on a little gate in the fence. Then off they go again. I follow their lead and head towards the forest.

On the other side of the gate, the track winds through pale, rough grass, rosebay-willow-herbs and purple heather before entering the deep, dark forest. The track through the forest is straight and wide and stretches far ahead. Overhead, there is a long strip of blue sky between the avenues of plantation but no light shines on the path; only here and there a small pool of sunlight breaks through the thick canopy, illuminating small areas of undergrowth of long-undisturbed moss. The air is drenched with the aromas of pine needles, fungi and mould; the only sounds are the screeching and creaking of branches rubbing together in the wind. The atmosphere is chilling and eerie.

I scan the plantation on my left for signs of a ruin. This is where Caegwyn seems to be marked on the map. The dank avenue appears to go on forever before finally opening onto a sun-drenched crossroads at its summit. I venture for a little way down a couple of these tracks although fearing that my search is futile. I decide if there is anything left of Caegwyn at all, it must be back in the direction I’ve come.

So I head back down the forestry track, scanning the forest floor again for signs of a ruin, feeling very tired and dispirited by now. I had come in search of Morgan’s land and the place where my great-grandmother grew up. As I reach the end of the plantation, I feel I have somehow failed them.

Then, as I step out of the forestry and into the sunlight, I feel overwhelmed by a strange and strong sensation; I am being not so much pulled but led, and I am compelled to follow, downwards away from the track. Over rows of concealed tree stumps I stumble, my ankles snarled by brambles which threaten to trip me up and send me flying with every step. I am going further and further from the track home and feeling exhausted. I stop and wonder where on earth I am going and why. This is ridiculous, I think to myself, I’m not going any further, I have to head home.

It is then that I see it.

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The ruins of Caegwyn have appeared, as if from nowhere before me, smothered and strangled under mounds of black-berried brambles. My breath catches in my throat and I gasp, my scalp tingling. Later, returning home and looking back towards the site of the well-concealed ruin, I am convinced I would never have found it if I had not been ‘led’ towards it by some unseen, spiritual force.

There is little left of the old Caegwyn to see, but from what remains of its outer walls, reduced to some four to six feet in height, one can see that it was once a traditional, Welsh stone long-house. At first sight, it seems precariously perched on the edge of the gorge beyond it, but in fact there is a distance of some tens of yards between what was once its front door and the edge of the ravine it lies parallel to.

It must once have been the most remote and romantic of settings, before the forestry came. The gorge carries the mountain stream down to the lake of Cefn-gardis below. When I lived in the village of Beulah, and my daughter was a little girl, I used to bring her and her friends up to this lake for picnics. I used to sit there by the tranquil lake, looking up at the hills beyond, and it astonishes me now to think I had no idea that my great-great grandmother and many of her relations had lived up there. This lake existed in their time, having been built by Henry Thomas of Llwynmadoc, sometime before his death in 1863. It is said that he employed the striking miners of South Wales to build it.

The aspect looking south from Caegwyn is breathtaking.

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The lake shimmers below, and beyond the lake one can see the old village of Beulah and its chapel framed between the slopes of the hills. Beyond Beulah chapel lies Garth bank and the long stretch of the Eppynt mountain. I stood and gazed at the view for a long while, thinking how privileged I was to have been led to find this place where my great grandmother grew up with her uncle Morgan; how lucky I was to have begun this journey in search of my grandmother, Annie, and her family; but sad too that such a place was now in ruins and beyond salvation. For this is a short-lived opportunity to go there, because although the forestry in which Caegwyn was buried has been cleared, it has been replanted. Soon, Caegwyn will be buried again, and even if I were not long gone by then, there will be little, if anything, left to see by the time the trees are harvested again.

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

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You can read about the books and 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

Follow me:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

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The brutality beneath the rural idyll.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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