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.

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

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/73tq302Ov71

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

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

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

 

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Angels, whores, and wives for sale.

While researching for my novel, Leap the Wild Water, I was shocked by the extent to which women in the 19th century were suppressed in all spheres of their lives, and the appalling double standards they were subject to. Generally, women were seen as either angels or whores, depending on their virginal status at marriage.

Women were generally regarded as the property of men. In 1824, a woman called Lydia Jones was produced for sale with a halter around her waist. In 1815, William Jones, a 79 year old pauper of Llanwrst, sold his wife for 3 farthings having been married for only 3 weeks; as late as 1863, a man in Merthyr Tydfil sold his wife to a fellow workman for the grand sum of £3. Not until 1870 were women allowed to inherit property without it passing immediately to their husbands.

Unmarried mothers, like Megan in Leap the Wild Water, suffered worst of all. They were publicly shamed and such was the trauma of this that many abandoned or killed their babies rather than suffer it. Up to 1834, the parish poor law authority would prosecute men for maintenance of the children of unmarried mothers. Then this law was changed so that the Poor Law Unions would start proceedings on behalf of an unmarried mother, only if she could ‘provide corroborative evidence of paternity’ – a practical impossibility, sex being a very private activity, and given the shame and approbation heaped upon a woman’s head were she to admit to engaging in sex before marriage – she would hardly be likely to do so publicly!  Such was the farcical nature of laws made by men in relation to women. The Poor Law Royal Commission was responsible for this change and it  was brought about to protect ‘ eligible but innocent bachelors and accused men of being coerced into unwanted marriages’.

The Bishop of Exeter warned against such a change in the law as he feared that it would lead to a great increase in numbers of babies being left at the workhouse doors. He said; ‘You will harden the heart of man and increase his selfishness to an intensity of which we have never yet believed him capable’. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Times newspaper and the poet, Coleridge. In 1864, John Brownlow expressed sympathy for these ‘basically decent girls’ who were seduced by promises of marriage, and spoke of how they were humiliated in open courts in front of a gawping male audience. Few were this sympathetic to the plight of these abandoned young women. To the puritanical chaplain in the New Forest, Rev. Herbert Smith, all unmarried mothers were ‘fornicators and adulterers’ and their children deemed ‘offspring of sin and profligacy’.

It was a brave young woman, indeed, who would make any attempt at obtaining justice. An example of the treatment women received in court is that of Agnes Roberts. In court, she said she had attempted suicide by throwing herself in the Llanelli dock, after being abandoned by the father of her unborn child. Thomas Ludford, the defence lawyer asked if she referred to the new dock, adding, ‘it has no water in it yet’. This was met with laughter from the all male audience and her case failed.  There was also the case of John Lewis, who in 1900 was up for three charges of rape against a 14 year old girl in the dock district of Llanelli. Judge Bingham threw the case out of court, claiming it was ‘ a trumpery of a case’ and that the girl in question had suffered ‘nothing more’ than an indecent assault.  He went on to say that such cases were scandalous – because they gave that part of the world a bad reputation!

Given the age of consent at the time, many of these young women so cruelly treated were no more than girls. The age of consent in Western countries during the mid-19th century was between 10 and 13 years old. In Britain, it was raised to the upper limit of 13 years in 1868 following a long campaign by William Thomas Charley, barrister and MP for Salford. He had campaigned for it to be raised to 21. Not until the end of the 19th century was it raised to 16.

Seventy-five percent of births in workhouses were illegitimate – being pregnant and unmarried meant absolute poverty for a woman. Turned out by their families, and shunned by their communities, many were forced to abandon their babies on workhouse or church steps rather than see their babies starve. The insanitary conditions of the workhouses were such that most of these babies died, anyway, of disease. In a society where women were regarded as the evil seductresses of men, it made no difference if a woman’s pregnancy was the result of rape – she was likely to be seen as having brought it on herself, and the man involved viewed as having been provoked.

In recent years, I’ve heard similar arguments brought against women who have been raped while intoxicated by drink. It seems to me that we’ve come a long way; we’re no longer chattels and we are able to be financially independent, but to what extent do sexual double standards still prevail?

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

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

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

You can also follow the author:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

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

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

 

Resources and interesting further reading on the subject of this blog;

Secret Sins by Russell Davies.

Hope and Heartbreak by Russell Davies.

Massacre of the Innocents by Lionel Rose.

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

 

Some things you may not know about Leap the Wild Water.

Sometimes, when we are carried away by a story, we may miss the hidden meanings within the text. As a writer, I love symbolism. The sound of the word itself is rich and resonant. Some of the names I used in Leap the Wild Water are symbolic in themselves.

Carregwyn, where Morgan and Megan live, literally translates from Welsh as White Rock. It represents the unbending ‘purity’ and harshness of the religion they must live by. There is no room for error, no forgiveness or compassion for women like Megan. They had to be pure in all things. They were either angels or whores. They were angels if they kept themselves pure until marriage, whores if they did not. Those who found themselves pregnant and unmarried were shunned and turned out by their family and community. In Leap the Wild Water, a young girl called Sian is cruelly shamed and humiliated in the chapel, and with nowhere to go, and her future in ruins, she resorts to a heart-breaking act.

Sian appears in a scene with Megan, where she confides how she was seduced and abandoned by Iago. They are picking their way around the ruins of an old house where Megan and Morgan had played as children. The ruin itself was a symbol of the loss of innocence.

Dinasffraint, the market town where Megan goes to sell her wares; translated into English it means Freedom Town . It was the place where Megan found freedom from constraint and familial duties, unfettered by the overbearing demands of her selfish Mam. In Dinasffraint, Megan learned there were other ways of living and believing, and that there were people in the world with more compassion than she’d ever known.

Nesta Harding – this was a bit of fun. Nesta is the woman who neglects and abuses the child she is paid to care for. A nest is a place for nurturing young. Nesta’s home was a hard nest indeed.

But it is the title, Leap the Wild Water, which is most symbolic of all. The Wildwater river runs through the lives of the people and the narrative alike. Its destructive power and force are objects of fear for any who go near. The Wildwater symbolises the fear and turmoil in the lives of the characters.

The title of Leap the Wild Water was taken from a scene in the book where Megan dreams that she and Eli drown while trying to leap the Wildwater river.  In the dream, Megan pulls Eli along, as she runs from the truth which she fears Morgan is about to tell Eli. There is nowhere left to run and they must leap the wild water or perish. In her dream, they perish because she runs from the truth instead of conquering her fear of it. Megan thinks she must deceive to survive but the telling of lies, like the Wildwater river, are a destructive force in her life.

So, there we are, now you know!

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