The brutality beneath the rural idyll.

WP_20160603_15_53_21_Pro__highres

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.

WP_20160603_15_49_54_Pro__highres

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.

WP_20160603_14_27_11_Pro__highres

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

 

Advertisements

19th century knitters

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Research can lead a writer down some unexpected avenues of discovery. While researching my novel, Leap the Wild Water, I bought a spinning wheel and taught myself to spin wool. I wanted to see just how much time it would take for one of my characters to knit a pair of stockings from raw wool. I got to really like spinning wool, its very relaxing, but I failed to master the art of knitting stockings.

It’s astonishing to think that such a laborious task as stocking knitting once played a big part in the Welsh rural economy. In fact, wool manufacture was the most prolific industry in Wales from the Middle Ages to mid-19th century.

Unlike today, when the cost of producing wool outweighs the price it fetches, wool was once a prized commodity, and the textile industry in Wales provided an income of sorts for countless households. From the poor cottagers employed in carding and spinning wool, to the enterprising farmers who housed weaving looms in lean-to sheds, called ty-gwydd, on their farms; there were few who were not involved in some way.

Many women of rural Wales were proficient spinners and highly skilled in the art of knitting. They were able to produce knitted garments for their own family’s needs. Despite the time-consuming labour involved in carding (usually done with teasel heads) and spinning the wool into yarn prior to knitting, many were able to support themselves by knitting and selling stockings. Such was the demand for their knitted stockings that a Walter Davies, in 1799, estimated that annual production ran to approximately 192,000 pairs.

Many stocking knitters sold their wares at local markets; some would stand along the stage-coach highways to sell to passing travellers; others sold to the local ‘stocking man’ who would collect from them each week. These ‘stocking men’ travelled far afield and over the English border to sell the stockings in the markets of large towns.

It was a common sight to see women knitting as they walked along the country lanes or hilltops. Great distances had to be walked in those days and the time taken was usefully spent on knitting. Yarn hooks were often used. These were s-shaped hooks; one side would hang from their apron strings while the spool of wool was attached to the other. Knitting sheaths were also popular; suspended from the hip, they bore the weight of the garment being knitted. These were handmade and carved, and given as love tokens, much as the Welsh love spoons were.

Farmer’s wives had an abundant source of wool for knitting, but poor cottagers had to source their wool by gathering the waste wool lost from the sheep amongst the gorse and bracken of the hilltops, or rubbed off along stone walls. This too was a laborious and time-consuming task but to have enough wool to meet the family’s needs, or to make a little extra money, was essential.

There is a scene in Leap the Wild Water when the wool gatherers arrive from the coast to gather waste wool from the mountain tops. The arrival of the wool gatherers was a much anticipated annual event. They would travel many miles with enough provisions to last them a week. Their journey entailed sleeping under the stars or sheltering in derelict barns by night, on route to their destinations. I would have loved to travel alongside them.

The knitting circles which have become so popular in recent years aren’t a new thing. Knitting evenings were a common event for past generations. Candlelight being expensive, numbers of people would take turns to congregate in each other’s houses of an evening; to knit, and gossip, and entertain each other with stories from times gone by.

Home-made dyes came from the surrounding landscape. Here are just a few, should you fancy experimenting for yourself;

  • Lichens were an abundant source, giving colours from pale green to deep pink, depending on whether they were picked from the mountain rocks or trees. In the 19th century, both women and children made money from gathering and selling lichen to merchants. In 1816 it was being sold for one and a half pence a pound. It was believed that lichen-dyed socks would prevent the feet from sweating.
  • Bruised sloe berries boiled with the wool gave a rose colour.
  • Elderberries with an alum mordant gave a bluey-green.
  • The roots of bedstraw and tormentil, which grow in abundance in spring-time on the upland hills of Wales, were some of the few plants which would produce red.
  • Gorse bark, flowers and young leaves produced yellow.
  • Bracken, another abundant plant on Welsh mountains, gave brown.
  • Dandelions produced magenta.

Just imagine how much time went into making one pair of stockings or a shawl! Yet, the domestic industry of stocking knitting only began to decline in the mid-1800’s with the advent of the railways and advances in knitting machinery. Then, machine-made hose became cheaply available in village and town shops and it was no longer economically viable as a living.

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