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.


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…


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

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A writer’s country strife alias ‘clueless’ in Wales.

I wrote this piece a while back as a guest on a friend’s blog. I have since moved and am no longer the owner of these two darlings but my time with them and the beginnings of our relationship shall never be forgotten. It is a good thing to be able to laugh at one’s self, I believe, and in the light of the weather giving us little to laugh about of late, I thought I would share this so you can all laugh with me at my former clue-lessness in the sheep-buying world.

I’ve always approached anything mechanical with some trepidation. I generally distrust any machine, including my car, if I don’t know how it works. So it was with unusual recklessness that I decided to try a ride-on mower to keep down the grass in my half-acre paddock. It was a second-hand mower, hence it came without instructions. I assumed it would work like my car; turn the ignition, the engine will start; let your foot off the clutch and away to go. All of which happened, but it was only when I found myself hurtling towards a tree with no room for manoeuvre that I realised I didn’t know where the brakes were and didn’t have the luxury of time to find out. I leapt from the beast and hit the ground running. I’m guessing I’m not the first person to have abandoned ship in this way because someone invented a mechanism which automatically cuts out the engine when the seat is vacated; thus the mower was saved from being wrapped around said tree.

Following this experience, I decided what I needed to keep the grass down was a more manageable kind of beast, and I set about a quest to buy myself a couple of sheep. After all, I’d grown up on a farm, what could possibly go wrong? I asked one of my brothers, Phil, to come along with me to a forthcoming sheep sale, based on another wrong assumption; that he would have more idea than me. Off we went to the sale.  I’d set my heart on a couple of Welsh Black Mountain sheep, though heaven knows we had more than a couple of ‘black sheep’ in the family already, including me.

Into the ring they came, in groups of two or four, and the bidding began. With my heart pounding, I proceeded to wave my programme in the air at intervals, and got the winning bid on a lovely pair of six month old, black lambs. Only when I went to pay did I realise the figure I had bid was not for the two but the price of each. I raise an eyebrow at Phil. He was obviously not as knowledgeable as I had hoped or he would have known this, wouldn’t he? At this point I should have had a sense of foreboding.

To be fair, since leaving the farm of our childhoods, neither of us had been involved in farming in any way. It’s astonishing how much one forgets over forty years. This lapse of memory was to become more evident over the coming hours.

With receipt of my payment in hand we go off in search of my lambs. They are not in a pen of their own, all ready and waiting for me as I expect. What we are faced with is a large pen of thirty black lambs all huddled together in a corner with their backs to us, and all seemingly identical.

“Which two are mine?” I ask Phil.

He gives a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, “I suppose you just take your pick?”

“Oh! Great! Those two look sweet, I’ll have those,” I say, pointing out two from the indistinguishable crowd.

Welsh Black Mountain lambs are WILD. They race, they kick, they bleat, and they buck like untamed horses. After chasing these beasts around the pen for some minutes, we decide to grab hold of whatever we can and hang on for dear life. They are so strong; it takes all our strength to carry them, kicking and writhing, out of the pen and down into the waiting trailer.

“Phew! A bit wild, aren’t they?” Phil says, as we bolt the trailer gate behind them.

Job done. Off we now go to the supermarket because Phil needs to do a bit of shopping. All the while, the lambs are trying to kick and buck their way out of the trailer. On returning with his shopping, Phil takes a peek inside.

“Oh! Come and see this!” He says. “Look! They’ve got numbers on them.”

So they have. Buried in the wool under their chins are paper tags with numbers penned on them; eight and twelve. The penny drops. Phil looks at me. I look at Phil. We hadn’t seen the numbers earlier because while we were chasing and catching the beasts, they were naturally facing the other way.

“Oops,” Phil says.

The two lambs I should have taken were the third and fourth of the group of thirty that were brought into the ring, and so would have had the numbers three and four attached to them. It was obvious now we see they are numbered.

“What a stupid idea. They could at least have put the numbers where we would have seen them,” says Phil.

No doubt the auctioneers weren’t expecting two complete novices to turn up or they’d have stuck the numbers on their backsides.

“I thought you said you’ve done this before,” I say to him with an accusing glare.

“Oh, well, we can’t take them back now. It won’t make no odds, anyway, they all look the same,” he says.

We head for home, accompanied by the loud bangs of our wild companions trying to kick their way out of the trailer. Perhaps they sensed they had been wrongly abducted.

By the time we get to my place, some two hours or more have passed since we had abducted those lambs. We back the trailer up to the open gate leading into my paddock and unleash the beasts. They race across the paddock and do something I’ve never seen lambs do before. They hop, skip, jump, then take a flying leap over the stone wall boundary straight onto my neighbour’s hill.

“Well! Ruddy hell!” Phil says in his most infuriating laid-back style, while I am wringing my hands with angst.

“You’ll never catch ‘em now, they’ll be gone,” says he, stating the bleeding obvious.

I go indoors to make a cup of tea; the only thing to do when you don’t know what to do next. A light is flashing on my answerphone. While we wait for the kettle to boil, I play back the message. It is a woman’s voice and she sounds furious.

“Please phone the auctioneers immediately you get this message.”

“She doesn’t sound very happy,” Phil says with hearty cheer and I give him ‘The Look’ that tells him this is not in the least bit funny.

When I phone the auctioneers I discover the mayhem we have left in our wake.

“The sheep are numbered for a reason!” I am informed in an officious voice.

“So buyers get the sheep they have bid on, not someone else’s sheep!” The woman goes on, her voice rising higher with each word.

“You have caused a great deal of confusion and trouble!” She says, her voice rising to a crescendo.

“I’m ever so sorry,” I squeak.

“And so you should be! Well! Someone else now has your sheep!” she says with a note of triumph in her voice which makes me suspect the ones which have gone to someone else must have been the better pair.

“We’ll never be able to go there again,” Phil says when I put down the phone.

My neighbour and his dog eventually found my two on the top of his hill, a couple of days later, and brought them home to me after I’d erected a fence above the wall to keep them in.

Not surprisingly, it took them some time to settle in and grow to trust me. They were the best of friends, their relationship cemented during their shared trauma of being abducted by a couple of ne’er-do-wells. At first, their capacity for jumping walls and fences knew no bounds. They had a few adventures over the following months until I made all the fences high enough to restrain llamas. On one of their adventures they ended up a mile away after taking a trip down the country lanes. I suspect they were going in search of their rightful owner.

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 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:

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