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.

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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

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The winter in pictures.

Did I say we don’t get proper winters anymore? I eat my words…

Mid-December

And then came March…

Looking forward to spring!

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

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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

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A solitary wanderer upon the Epynt mountain.

Puddles of sunlight on bare-bleached scatterings of harvested fields…

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Rich red-brown fields turned upside-down by farmer’s plough…

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Sheep spattered fields and slopes, Llanafan’s hills dappled by cloud-shadows. Country lanes winding lazily from farms to village and away, again, over the rises and falls of the rolling landscape to distant mountains, lush with green bracken, where Garnwen cwtches in Drygarn’s lap…

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Tormentil beneath me, steep gorges on either side. Above my head, the skylarks singing their songs of joy…

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Today, I am free, to wander without purpose or cause…

Breezes stir the mountain grasses from their slumbers, and they whisper to me of things I cannot understand or know, of the great wisdom of the earth that lies just beyond my reach.

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:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

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On this day in 1853. #Wales #history

On the evening of the 9th July, 1853, the residents of the Duhonw valley of our local Epynt mountain had no idea of the terrifying events which were about to unfold.

On the banks of the Duhonw brook stood a little cottage called Dolfach. A Mrs Lawrence lived there with her daughter and two grandchildren, and a maidservant. Mrs Lawrence farmed 25 acres around the cottage. A 164 years ago, it would have been a simple life, keeping a few sheep, and a cow perhaps, eking out a small living in this tranquil, idyllic location.

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Location of the former cottage of Dolfach

The weather on that day had been heavy and sultry with dark thunder clouds bubbling up over Builth – not unusual at this time of year…

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View of the Epynt mountain from my house, this morning, 9th July. The Duhonw valley lies on the other side of the Epynt.

On the night of July 9th, a storm began in the little village of Penybont in Radnorshire and worked its way south. The heavens opened and a deluge of rain fell over Builth, followed by hail-showers which left a covering of hail some four inches deep. Thunder, sheet-lighting and fork lightening illuminated the Epynt as the storm increased.

Then came a cloudburst as had never been seen before and a waterspout fell on the Epynt mountain. Such was the volume of water that fell in a short time that the Duhonw brook became a raging torrent. While the inhabitants of the cottage slept, the fork in the Duhonw brook above the cottage became jammed by the large boulders and trees which had been uprooted by the volume of rainwater and carried downstream. The raging torrent was now forced down a narrow channel towards the little cottage.

Further up the valley stood Dolau-newydd mill worked by a Mr Thomas Evans. In the flood, part of the mill was swept away and the floodwater rose so high that Mr Thomas urged his family upstairs. As the floodwater rose ever higher, he and his family were forced to seek refuge in the attic while Mr Evans frantically began cutting a hole in the roof through which his family escaped onto the roof.

Back at Dolfach, a cottager living on the opposite side of the brook witnessed what happened next. He’d been stirred from his sleep by the noise and discovered that rainwater was flooding his home. Looking out, he saw that the kitchen and outbuildings of Dolfach had already been swept away. As he watched, powerless to help, he saw water gushing through the upper windows of his neighbour’s cottage. The scene must have been one that nightmares are made of as he then saw two trees come crashing down with the water, into the back of the cottage. Before his eyes, the cottage crumbled and the debris and inhabitants carried away by the ferocious torrent.

The dawn of the next day was to reveal the extent of the devastation all down the Duhonw valley. A total of 18 bridges were destroyed by the floodwater. Along with the bridges destroyed, chasms had been torn in roads and the farms on the hillsides and further down the valley turned to mud, their crops destroyed.

Poor Mrs Lawrence’s body was found the next day, 18 miles away down the river Wye along with furniture, trees and debris from her cottage. She was still dressed in her nightclothes. The bodies of her daughter, grandchildren and maidservant were discovered some days later, near Builth. Her grandson had only time to put on his trousers, her granddaughter was still wearing her nightdress but had managed to put on one boot, and the maidservant’s body was found clutching a blanket – all signs that they were about to make some attempt at escape before they were swept away.

Now, as then, we are powerless in the face of freak weather. When I go to my bed tonight, I shall give a thought to those poor people destroyed by the ‘Epynt Waterspout’.

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

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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

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Walking with the ancients.

Last week, plans for a wind farm on my old stomping ground were rejected by all but one member of the planning committee. Before I left the area in 2013, I took some photographs, just in case the wind farm got the go ahead and this landscape I loved so much was lost forever.

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I also wrote in my journal about walking there…

Ripples of sunlight reflect off a quicksilver brook, swollen by heavy rain.

The chattering of water tumbling over stones.

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Sheep pause their languid grazing to gaze with idle curiosity, wondering why I am wandering in such wilderness as this.

I walk along the hallowed road that echoes with the footsteps of ancient drovers.

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The old road winds far away, up and over the hills, farther than the eye can see.

I cannot walk such ancient roads without thinking of those who have trod here long before me.

In my mind, I hear the hollow notes of distant cow bells ringing, and the drover’s voice a-calling ‘hey-hope, hey-hope’.

Over the rise he appears, in broad-brimmed hat and oiled long coat, with his herd of cattle and a gaggle of geese with their feet all tarred and feathered.

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I turn away from the ancient path to walk farther still into the mists of history, along the side of a tinkling brook, towards the remains of a settlement and hill fort, older still in its origins.

Faint are the outlines of stone wall boundaries, and crumbled are the circles of stones which once were ancient dwellings.

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I sit among the scattered stones where hearths once warmed chilled bones.

There is no sound in this sheltered place but the wind whispering through the grasses and a buzzard mewling overhead.

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I feel the tug of time spinning backwards, weaving the thread of my life into the fabric of the ancients.

Wherever I go from here, I shall carry the memory of this place with me until I, too, am no more.

Like the drovers and the Celts, we are all but passing through….

 

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:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

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

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Running with the wind.

Running with the wind.

Take my hand with your back to the wind that would sweep you from your feet if it could. Watch with me as the swallows swoop and the buzzard rides the air-waves. See how they go with the flow and don’t fight against that which cannot be fought. Take my hand and we’ll run with the wind as if we were never broken.

Yes, take my hand and I’ll lead you there where broken hearts are healed and sealed, for there it is the skylarks rise and fall to rise again. And they’ll sing to you as they sing to me  of hope and eternal promise; that out of sadness joy can rise, again, and again, and again.

 

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:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

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

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

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

 

Honouring the dead.

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Bryngwynfel, my mother’s birthplace.

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The view from above Tyn-y-beili, where my mother grew up.

It is the anniversary of my mother’s death and I thought it would be a good time to share a particular family story she told me, because it is one that has been passed on by word of mouth through three mothers – my mother, her mother, and now me. It is a story which had remained untold since her own mother died and which would not have come to light if the memory had not been prompted by my research into our family history.

I unearthed many tragic stories while doing the research, things my mother would never have known about her ancestors, otherwise. But this particular story would have disappeared with my mother if she had not told it to me. My mother was told it by her mother, my granny Annie, and my mother was eighty-five years old before she related it to me. How many such family stories are lost for the want of someone who wants to know, or for the want of telling?

I’d been recording my granny’s sisters and brothers on the family history chart and was asking my mother if she remembered any of these aunts and uncles of hers. Well, she had something to tell about each of them but I shan’t go into those stories now. What she did say, in her lilting Welsh accent, and which made my ears prick up was ‘But wait a minute, there was another one, you know’.

‘Was there?’ I was incredulous.

‘Yes! A baby! She was named Medi!’

I had no knowledge of this child, at all.

‘Well, now, you listen, and I shall tell you what my mother told me’, my mother said…

‘The baby was poorly. From the start, you see, there was something wrong with her. And her father, Huw – he was a lay preacher, you know – he was very worried because it didn’t look like the baby would survive and she hadn’t been baptised, you see. And so Huw decided they must go to the chapel and get her baptised. And off they went. But it was a terrible day, pouring down rain, and they all got drenched before they even got to the chapel. They only had the pony and cart, you see. Well, the upshot of it was the baby died, anyway, but that wasn’t the last of it. Medi’s mother, my grandmother, caught pneumonia that day and never recovered. Six months later, she was gone, too. My mother, Annie, was just six years old when her mother died, you know.’

It was my daughter who realised the significance of Medi’s name. Medi is Welsh for September, which turned out to be the month of her birth. After my mother told me this story, I searched the BMD index for a Medi, and there she was; her death recorded in the last quarter of 1896.

Now, every September, I remember Medi and her mother, and poor Huw who must have suffered greatly for the decision he made on that fateful, wet day and through which he lost so much. Huw had already lost one wife to childbirth. He never married again after he lost the second one. And I am haunted by the fact that I have failed, still, to find their graves. Another September is come and gone. This time, this year, I will find them, I tell myself with every September that goes by. Perhaps I will, this year.

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Cwmchwefru, where Medi and her mother died.

My mother, had she been born to a different life, would have loved to write stories, I think, for she certainly loved to tell them and told them well. She was very proud of me having written two novels (she did not live to see the third). She read the first two and greatly enjoyed them, then lent them to all her neighbours and friends, saying ‘my daughter, Jenny, wrote these, you know. She’s an author!’

The moral of this story is; if you have elderly relatives, be sure to ask them questions while they are still here, and pass the stories on to your own children. My mother was the last one of her brothers and sisters to die, and one thing I’ve often regretted is that her siblings had died before I began researching our family history. There was so much they died not knowing and so much more they may have contributed.

Imagine if my mother had died without telling this family story. Little Medi and her short and tragic life would never have been recorded as it deserved to be. Ask the questions and pass on your family stories!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to say goodbye.

So much has happened since the first book in the trilogy, Leap the Wild Water, was published in 2013. I remember how it felt when the book ‘went live’. It was like diving into deep water, not knowing what lay beneath the surface. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. I published it on a hope and a prayer that someone, somewhere, would think well of it. I never imagined just how many people would be carried away, as I was, by Megan’s story, or the praise my writing would receive.

I am truly and forever grateful to all those readers who let me know, in person or through their reviews, how much they enjoyed my books. It is readers who decide if writers sink or swim and I have been blessed by the encouragement my writing has received. I am not a person who has a great deal of self-confidence or self-belief, so without that encouragement, the second book in the trilogy, The Calling of the Raven, may never have seen the light of day.

Now, two eventful years since I published The Calling of the Raven, I’m finally publishing the last book in the Megan Jones trilogy. I came close to giving up on it. The loss of Morgan knocked me off my feet and for a while I couldn’t think about anything else. I miss him so much and preparing the book for this step to publication has given me a focus.

With the last book in the trilogy, it is time to say goodbye to Megan, et al. Saying goodbye isn’t easy as I’ve come to know these characters so well they are like old friends to me. They have carried me along on a breath-taking journey across the centuries and into the intimate details of their lives and struggles. Megan is a woman with courage, compassion, and a capacity for forgiveness which many of us can only aspire to. For me, she is what every heroine should be; portraying the possibilities lying within each of us.

From the very first, I have felt these stories were not being told by me so much as by the characters who ‘speak’ through me. My role has been merely to shape their experiences into the form of a novel. So I am grateful to them, too, for choosing me to tell their stories. I shall never forget them.

Which brings me to the last book in the Megan Jones trilogy, and to celebrate the launch of Anywhere the Wind Blows, the new updated kindle edition of Leap the Wild Water will be FREE for 5 days from August 1st 2016.

Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

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 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