Tuesday 12 June 2018

Alphabetical list of articles, and other writings

               Alphabetical list
125 31st October
96 The 1947 Mumbles lifeboat tragedy
115 Air Raid Precautions
86 The Albert Hall
146 Kingsley Amis
94 Ann of Swansea
46 The Apostle of Gower
42 Arctic Convoys
54 Rev. Leon Atkin
145 Gladys Aylward
27 Bacon Hole and Minchin Hole    
131 The Balinka Expeditions                          
89 Baptist Chapels
43 The Bathing House
61 The Battle of Gower
60 Roger Beck
75 The Bells of Santiago
136 Bethany Chapel, West Cross
24 Bible College of Wales
25 Earliest Blue plaques
55 The Boer War cenotaph
48 Dr Thomas Bowdler
20 Edward ‘Taffy’ Bowen
104 Brandy Cove Skeleton
29 The Brangwyn Panels
151 William de Breos
23 Sir Arthur Whitten Brown
53 I.K. Brunel
98 Burry Holms
28 The Bush Hotel
41 Calon Lân
74 Castle Square
77 Mutiny on the 'Caswell'
112 Cefn Coed Hospital
92 The Cenotaph
63 John Charles
133 Church Bells and ringing
118 City Status
108 Colonial Building
126 'Death Ray Matthews'
18 Amy Dillwyn
3 Lewis Weston Dillwyn
121 'The Dollar Ship'
102 Jessie Donaldson
132 Dylan Thomas's Swansea
47 Edward II
13 Ben Evans
14 P.O. Edgar Evans
124 Edgar Evans statue
49 Will Evans paintings
153 Follies
137 Glanmor School
116 The Gower Show
64 The Grenfells
4 Cyril Gwynn  
82 Pete Ham and Badfinger   
129 Lady Houston
22 Frances Ridley Havergal
93 James Stevens tragedy, 1903
71 Alfred Janes
15 Dr Griffith John
84 Dai Jones, tenor
51 Dr Daniel Jones
26 Dr Ernest Jones
152 Colonel Philip Jones
81 The Kardomah
139 Fr. Charles Kavanagh
83 Killay House
97 Kilvrough Manor 
106 Lewis Lewis
8 Saunders Lewis
105 LifePoint
135 Lliw Valley reservoirs
12 Mackworth Suicide
141 Mannheim Twinning
10 John Miles
7 Mond Buildings
1 Morgan and Higgs
66 Morris Castle
110 Robert Morris
91 Mumbles Head battery
70 Mumbles Lighthouse
65 Mumbles pier
36 ‘Beau’ Nash
85 Neath's England crciket captains
50 Nicholaston Church
117 North Dock rail catastrophe, 1865
9 Morfydd Owen
156 Morfydd Owen centenery
101 Only Two Can Play
59 Oxwich Castle
107 Oystermouth Cemetery
80 Oystermouth Church
68 Oystermouth School
109 Pantygwydr Baptist Chuch
119 Parc-le-breos
5 Parc Wern
87 Parry-Thomas at Pendine, 1926
39 Dame Adelina Patti
142 Penlle'r Castell
52 Penllergare
31 Pennard Castle
147 Pennard Golf Club
62 Penrice
34 The Plaza Cinema
19 Port Eynon lifeboat disaster
33 The Prince’s Fountain
140 Public Executions
72 Pwll Du shipwreck
56 Terminus Railways
144 Rebecca in Gower
155 Red Lady of Paviland
154 Rhossili Rectory
148 Rhyddings
57 Ceri Richards
30 Evan Roberts and the 1904 Revival
128 Rotherslade
21 St Helen’s cricket
111 St James' Church
79 William J Samuell
67 Seren Gomer
134 Severn Princess
130 The Slip Bridge
149 Southey's descendant
44 Baron Spolasco
76 The Swansea Canal
40 Swansea Museum
32 C.R.M. Talbot
90 Phil Tanner
127 William Thomas o Lan
17 Tir John Power Station
45 Titanic
2 Trams
143 The Underground Chapels
123 Unitarians
120 The Vikings
78 Glynn Vivian
114 Henry Hussey Vivian
138 The Vivian Hall
122 Vernon Watkins 50th anniversary
16 Vernon Watkins and Lloyd’s Bank
103 Vernon Watkins at Pennard
11 Weaver’s Flour Mill
150 Harri Webb
73 Weobley Castle
37 The Wesley Chapel
58 Percy White
38 Whiteford lighthouse
69 Wind Street           
35 The Women of Mumbles Head
6 Worm’s Head
113 Wrecking
99 Y.M.C.A.
Six articles on Christmas themes (South Wales Evening Post, Dec 2015)
New Year's Day tragedy, 1916 (Gower Journal vol. 66, 2015)
Frances Ridley Havergal, hymn writer (Gower Journal vol. 48, 1997)
Vernon Watkins, ‘Swansea’s other poet’ (Gower Journal vol. 65, 2014)
Edgar Evans of Gower (Gower Society publication, 2008)
The Methodist Martyr: William Seward
Christian articles (Burry Green Magazine)

Sunday 10 June 2018

156 Morfydd Owen centenery

156 Morfydd Owen centenery
Elin Manahan Thomas, the Gorseinon-born soprano, sang Handel’s "Eternal source of light divine" at the recent Royal Wedding.  On 2 July she will be singing at the Gower Festival at St Paul’s Church in Sketty, where her subject will be the Welsh soprano, composer and pianist Morfydd Owen, who died in Mumbles 100 years ago.   
Morfydd Owen was born into a Welsh-speaking family in 1891, and soon showed signs of being a musical prodigy, playing the piano and beginning to compose even from the age of six.  After performing in chapels and at local eisteddfodau she studied at University College, Cardiff, and went on to London’s Royal Academy of Music, where she won every available prize at the end of her first year. 
She became a member of the Welsh Presbyterian Chapel in Charing Cross Road, and began to move in influential London Welsh circles.  She collaborated with the wife of Liberal MP Herbert Lewis to transcribe and arrange Welsh folk songs.  Admitted to the Gorsedd of Bards at the 1912 National Eisteddfod at Wrexham, she took the Bardic name Llwyn, being often known as Morfydd Llwyn-Owen.  While living in Hampstead she also moved in a very different sphere, meeting writers in Bohemian circles like D.H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound, and forming a lifelong friendship with Liberal MP and writer Eliot Crawshay-Williams.  An Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, she gave concerts in Bath and Oxford before her professional début at the Aeolian Hall in New Bond Street in January 1917.  But to the dismay of her chapel friends, a month later she married the flamboyant psychoanalyst Dr Ernest Jones from Gowerton, at a time when psychoanalysis was regarded with deep suspicion.  This severely curtailed her musical output, for Jones did not wish his wife to perform in public, and domestic duties at their West End flat and cottage in Sussex limited her musical creativity.  There was also tension between Jones’s atheism and her Christian faith. 
As the First World War prevented her taking up an award to study Russian folk music in St Petersburg, her husband brought her to visit Gower in August 1918.  They stayed at Craig-y-môr, at the top of Plunch Lane in Mumbles, the home of Jones’s widowed father, who had re-married.  The couple visited Caswell, Langland, Sketty, Swansea Market, and Castle Street’s Kardomah Café.  But Morfydd was taken ill with appendicitis, requiring an immediate operation.  Having a car, Jones could have driven her to Swansea Hospital (now Home Gower), but instead she was operated on at Craig-y-môr, with Jones acting as anesthetist.  With hindsight ether should have been used instead of chloroform, for tragically Morfydd died of chloroform poisoning, a few weeks before her twenty-seventh birthday.  She was buried at the top of Oystermouth cemetery - even before any death certificate was issued - and no post-mortem was carried out.   Her grave is marked with a red sandstone column giving the incorrect date of her birth (Jones believed she was two years younger than she was), and the dates of her marriage and death, with words in German from Goethe that translated read, “Here the indescribable consequences (of love) have been fulfilled”, for German was the language of the early psychoanalysts.  The circumstances of Morfydd Owen’s death raise several questions, which during war-time went unanswered. 
So Wales lost potentially one of her greatest musical talents, who will be remembered at the Gower Festival on 2 July, at a BBC Promenade concert, a lecture by Dr Rhian Davies at Swansea University on 6 September, the unveiling of a blue plaque outside Craig-y-môr the next day (the centenary of her death), with a ceremony around her grave, and the following day a blue plaque at her Treforest birthplace.  
The obituary in “Y Gorlan” stated: “O Death! We knew that thou were blind, but in striking Morfydd thou hast taught us that thou art also deaf.       




Saturday 17 March 2018

155 Red Lady of Paviland

155 The Red Lady of Paviland
South Gower is well known for bone caves like Bacon Hole and Minchin Hole, both of which are near Pennard’s National Ttrust car park, but its most famous cave lies between Mewslade Bay and Port Eynon, beneath the cliff top called Yellow Top.  Here are the Paviland Caves, and in particular Goat’s Hole, about 14 metres above sea level, where the earliest human skeleton in the British Isles was discovered.
In 1822 the curate of Port Eynon, Rev. John Davies (father of Rev. J.D. Davies who wrote the four-volume History of West Gower), together with Gower’s first resident doctor, Daniel Davies (no relation), found a large quantity of animal bones, flints and other implements in Goat’s Hole, which extends for about 18 metres.  They brought this to the attention of Miss Emily Talbot of the Penrice estate, and of Lewis Weston Dillwyn, naturalist and Fellow of the Royal Society.  The archaeologist William Buckland, a clergyman who in 1845 would become Dean of Westminster, was summoned from Oxford.  He arrived on 18th January 1823, and his investigations uncovered a partial skeleton without a skull, which he assumed was a female because it was buried with various decorative items, some carved from the tusk of a mammoth: thus it became known as “The Red Lady of Paviland”.  Buckland, Oxford’s first Professor of Geology, dated the bones from Roman times, believing there had been a Roman camp on the cliff top above, whereas in fact the bones were far older, from an Iron Age hill fort.  Although Paviland is now on the coast, at the time of the burial it would have overlooked a great plain rather than the sea, and been 60 or 70 miles inland.
Subsequently the cave was explored by several amateur archaeologists, and even a group of boys from Clifton School in Bristol dug there in the 1880s.  A more comprehensive investigation was undertaken in 1912 by anthropologist William Sollas, who like Buckland was an Oxford Professor of Geology.  He dated the skeleton from Palaeolithic times, far earlier than Buckland’s estimate, and identified the human bones as those of a young man, rather than of a woman.  Radio-carbon dating now indicates that the bones are about twenty-six thousand years old.  The young man was about 1.73 metres tall, weighed about 73kg, and ate much fish.  The colouring came from red ochre that had seeped from the roof of the cave and discoloured the bones, as in Bacon Hole, where it was once thought to be prehistoric cave painting.  Although William Buckland was incorrect in certain matters, he was a pioneer - and quite an eccentric, for example keeping a hyena in order to observe how it broke bones.  He also published the first description of a dinosaur.
Goat’s Hole is only accessible for a few hours at low tide, so much care is needed to reach it.  Swansea Museum contains many items from the Paviland caves, with other finds being in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and elsewhere.  In 1823 there was no Museum in Wales, and Buckland was Oxford University’s first Professor of Geology, so the bones of the Red Lady of Paviland were removed to Oxford’s Museum of Natural History.  Subsequently some have called for the bones to be returned to Swansea, but at least in 1998 a replica set was presented to Swansea Museum by the Gower Society to mark its 50th anniversary, and in December 2007 the actual bones were loaned for a year to Cardiff’s National Museum of Wales.     
An immense number - over 5,000 - of the Early Upper Palaeolithic artefacts discovered have come from Paviland cave, and Malcolm Ridge, long-time chairman of the Gower Society, described Buckland’s findings as being “one of the most important finds of human remains ever made”.   Rather than hidden history, Goat’s Hole is history on our doorstep whose magnitude is generally unappreciated.  


Friday 16 March 2018

154 Rhossili Rectory

154 Rhossili Rectory
Anyone who envisages a seaside break in Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty could hardly improve on a remote property with a superb view of the sea, bordered on the left by Worm’s Head and on the right by Burry Holms, with no neighbours.  Available for hire from the National Trust, this is the former Rhossili Rectory, built on the site of an old farmhouse in the early part of the 19th century midway between Rhossili and Llangennith.  It became the home of Reverend John Ponsonby Lucas and his family when he was Rector of Rhossili and Vicar of Llangennith, from 1855 until he died in 1898.  He belonged to a notable Gower family which included John Lucas, who built the mansion of Stouthall near Reynoldston in 1793, and another John Lucas, allegedly engaged in smuggling at the Salt House at Port Eynon, and possibly also using Culver Hole.
The Rectory, which the website states now has four bedrooms to sleep seven people, was in the nineteenth century home to nine people - the Rector and his wife, their six children (three boys and three girls), and their maid Ann.  Downstairs the two front rooms were the drawing room and the dining room, with the kitchen behind the dining room on the south side.  The Rector farmed the glebe fields, and kept a horse, cow, flock of sheep and some pigs - the horse being his transport around the parish.  After the Rector had taken a church service, he would not greet each worshipper by the church door, for the congregation would respectfully wait inside the Church until he had ridden away!
At that time it was not just the Rectory that was in a remote position, for the same applied to Rhossili itself, then more of a hamlet than a village.  It was separated from Middleton and Pitton by a narrow lane, for only at Pitton Cross was there a road along which a two-horse omnibus could transport passengers and packages to Swansea.  Also at Pitton Cross a horse “break” – an open wagon with bench seats drawn by one horse – could be hired.
The Rector’s children all received good education, though it entailed their lodging away from home: the three girls went to Carmarthen High School, the eldest boy Charles went to Cowbridge Grammar school, while his two brothers Loftus and Tottenham went to Llandovery College.  Loftus was the only one of the six children who married and had children.  All the Lucas children were musical, participating in musical evenings at the Rectory, and playing and singing at occasional concerts and entertainments in the villages for church funds.  Their mother trained the church choir. 
During the Second World War, the former Rectory was a base for workers engaged at Rhossili Down’s radar station, and it acquired a reputation for being haunted.  Wynford Vaughan Thomas relates that an overnight visitor to the Rectory had felt a sudden bone-numbing chill, and heard footsteps following him down a dark passageway, before a mocking voice challenged: “Why don’t you turn around and look at me?”  More recently the house was featured in an episode of the science fiction TV series “Torchwood”.         
Rhossili Rectory’s website contains fine photographs of the renovated interior, and extols the pleasures of a summer alfresco dinner in the garden watching the sun set over the beach.  It also mentions that wi-fi is available, though with intermittent connection problems, and an outhouse is suitable for storing surfboards and body boards for surfers in the bay.  Of course this isolated property can encounter stormy wintry conditions, such as when the paddle steamer “City of Bristol” fatally ran aground nearby in 1840.  However, potential users do face a lengthy waiting list for the opportunity of staying at this historic house. 

Thursday 15 March 2018

153 Follies

153 Follies
In his fine book “Portrait of Gower”, Wynford Vaughan Thomas describes travelling from Parkmill west along the south Gower road, until after passing Nicholaston Church one is surprised by an apparent castle ruin at the junction with the fork to the left downhill towards Oxwich.  This ruin is known as Oxwich Towers, and although it might appear to date from the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, it was built much later, after Thomas Mansel Talbot had erected the mansion of Penrice Castle around 1776-1779.  Oxwich Towers was built as a folly in the 1790s to resemble part of a ruined castle.  A folly is defined as a building that might be somewhat eccentric in design or construction, but is deliberately built for no purpose other than ornamental, and which may have elements of fakery - such as Oxwich Towers which was deliberately built as a ruin.
Visitors to the National Botanic Gardens in West Wales would notice on the skyline the folly known as Paxton’s Tower.  This appears to be a standard square mansion, whereas in fact it is three-sided, having been built by Sir William Paxton, who had purchased the Middleton Hall estate in 1790.  The 36-foot high tower may have been inspired by Admiral Nelson’s death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, for marble tablets above each of the three entrances to the tower dedicate it to his memory.  There is a banqueting room on the first floor, so Paxton’s Tower might presume to be a monument rather than a folly. 
In Derwen Fawr a belvedere stands in Saunders Way, on a mound surrounded by trees.  Its design was based on the Chapter House of Margam Abbey, for its central pillar supports a fan-vaulted ceiling.  It was part of Sir John Morris’s Sketty Park mansion when he moved from Clasemont in 1806, though it may even have been built earlier.  The Sketty Park mansion was demolished in 1975.  
Near Reynoldston a very different type of folly was erected by John Lucas in the grounds of Stouthall, the Georgian-style mansion built a few years after the mansion of Penrice.  In the grounds Lucas sited a small stone circle, roughly thirty feet in circumference, described in 1833 as “forming a miniature representation of Stonehenge”.  Rev. J.D. Davies, the historian of Gower and minister of Llanmadoc and Cheriton Churches, wrote in 1898 to Rev J.P. Lucas of Rhossili: “your grandfather had some whims … (such as) the miniature Stonehenge in the upper part of the park”.  The stones were local red sandstone conglomerate, five upright and nine lying flat, around a roughly cubical block fashioned to form a crude seat, and placed to afford a view of Stouthall half a mile away.  The late Bernard Morris described the stones as “a distinctive local curiosity”, but sadly most of them were illegally removed in February 1996.  John Lucas added other features at Stouthall that could be termed follies - making a cave in the grounds into a grotto, and building a castellated Gothic-style stable-yard.
Although not visible from the main road, there is a folly in a field west of Kilvrough Manor, a round tower marked on Ordnance Survey maps as “Tower”.  Neath’s Gnoll estate has a possible folly in the Ivy Tower, built in 1795 by Molly Mackworth as a viewing tower overlooking the cascades.
As mentioned, Oxwich Towers, which can more accurately be described as the lodge at the main gates to Penrice Castle, was built as an extravagant Gothic folly in the 1790s with the appearance of a ruined castle.  But this has been adapted to more practical use, and is now available for hire, having been runner-up in the Best Unique Retreat category by Unique Cottage Holidays.  With limestone flooring throughout, and fine views of Penrice park from Gothic windows, it provides an unusual setting for a couple wishing to stay in a genuine folly!

Tuesday 13 March 2018

152 Colonel Philip Jones

152 Colonel Philip Jones
The expression “to run with the hare and the hounds” conveys endeavouring to remain on good terms with both sides in a conflict or dispute.  A local person who achieved this, surviving radical changes of government during a turbulent time in 17th century Britain, was Colonel Philip Jones of Llangyfelach.
He was born in 1618 at Pen-y-waun Farmhouse (now demolished), north-west of Llangyfelach Church, into a well-off family, for his grandfather was said to own seven properties.  During the century following the European Reformation, radical and Puritan ideas were becoming prevalent, especially in the years leading up to the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642.  Jones’s neighbour Marmaduke Matthews of Nydfwch was educated with a view to entering the ministry in Oxford, at that time a hotbed of Puritan ideas.  By contrast with the uniformity of Church of England services from the time of Elizabeth I, Christian believers were forming congregations that were “gathered” – people coming together to worship in a particular way, rather than assembling on a parochial or geographical basis.  The first such “gathered” church in Wales was formed as an Independent Church in 1639 at Llanfaches in Gwent by William Wroth, followed by, at Ilston, the first Baptist Church in Wales, founded in 1649 by John Miles (also spelt Myles), who like Marmaduke Matthews had imbibed Puritan ideas while studying in Oxford.  Within a few years Philip Jones became a member of that Baptist Church.        
He was evidently an able administrator, being appointed governor of the garrison of Swanzey (as it was then spelt) in 1645, when aged only twenty-seven, and the following year becoming Steward of Gower and Kilvey.  A colonel in the Parliamentary army, Philip Jones purchased The Great House in Swansea’s High Street, to the north of the castle (this was not The Plas).  He married Jane Price of Gellihir, and they had four sons and five daughters.
After the execution of King Charles I, during the interregnum Colonel Jones became a Member of Parliament, and supported the Act for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales, which established state-sponsored schools, and ejected Anglican clergy, replacing them with men of Puritan sympathies. 
When Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector, Jones became a member of the Privy Council, and purchased Fonmon, the fortified medieval castle in the Vale of Glamorgan, although he did not take up residence there for several years.  When Cromwell died aged 59 at Whitehall Palace, it was Colonel Philip Jones who attended to the funeral arrangements at Westminster Abbey.
Subsequently there was a reaction against the eleven years of Puritan rule during the interregnum, and a move to restore the monarchy.  Charles II was crowned King, and many parliamentarians removed from high office, with Jones ceasing to be Steward of Gower and Kilvey.  As might be expected in such times of political upheaval, Philip Jones had his enemies, being criticised as a mere opportunist, accused of fraud, and impeached, and yet he survived.  It was even alleged that he had taken away the organ of St Mary’s, Swansea, and one wonders whether Fonmon Castle might contain a 17th century organ?  However, since he was not involved in the regicide of King Charles I, Philip Jones managed to obtain pardon under the Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity, and Oblivion.
Subsequently, apart from serving as Sheriff of Glamorgan, he retired from public office and took up residence at Fonmon, where he died in 1674 aged 56, being buried in nearby Penmark Church.
Colonel Philip Jones may well have been an opportunist, who during a time of social unrest and civil war managed to survive the Restoration of the Monarchy, but at least in those turbulent times there is no record of his having killed anyone.  Descendants of this Llangyfelach man, who had the skill to become the leading parliamentarian in South Wales, still reside at Fonmon Castle.

Monday 12 March 2018

151 William de Breos

151 William de Breos
Parc le Breos takes its name from the Norman de Breos family, of whom there are various spellings such as Braose, Brewys, Breuse, and even Bruce on the sign by Giant’s Grave.  The de Breos family came to Britain with the conquering Normans, were based first at Bramber Castle in Sussex, and became Lords of Gower during medieval times, with a reputation for tyranny and ruthlessness - though surprisingly one de Breos was a bishop of Llandaff from 1266 to 1287.  Several of these Lords of Gower were named William, but can be differentiated by the year that each one died, or be numbered like British monarchs. 
During the reign of King John in 1203 the Lordship of Gower was granted to a William de Breos who died in 1212.  Of particular interest is his grandson, a William de Breos who was born in Brecon around 1197, and who succeeded his father Reginald de Breos (after whom Reynoldston is named) to the Lordship in 1227.  This de Breos was particularly detested by the Welsh, being called Gwilym Ddu, or Black William.  He was captured near Montgomery in mid Wales in 1228, by the Welsh forces of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn Fawr), ruler of Gwynedd, and ransomed for the huge amount of £2,000.  Although de Breos made an alliance with Llywelyn during his captivity, the Norman evidently had an affair with Llywelyn’s wife, Princess Joan (Siwan in Welsh), an illegitimate daughter of King John.  As happened in those times, she had been given in marriage at the age of ten to seal a treaty, marrying the 32-year-old prince of Gwynedd in Chester Abbey in 1204.  Siwan later became an able intercessor for her husband with her half-brother, King Henry III.
The entry in 1230 for the Chronicle of Ystrad Fflur (Strata Florida, the abbey in Cardiganshire) states: “In this year William de Breos the Younger, lord of Brycheiniog, was hanged by the Lord Llywelyn in Gwynedd, after he had been caught in Llywelyn's chamber with the king of England's daughter, Llywelyn's wife."  This probably took place at Llywelyn’s residence at Abergwyngregyn in north-east Gwynedd.  The Abbot of Vaundey recorded: “On 2nd of May…. he was hanged on a tree, and this not privily or in the night time, but openly and in the broad daylight, in the presence of more than 800 men assembled to behold the piteous and melancholy spectacle.”  To hang a nobleman as if he were a common thief was a particular insult which threatened to bring the English king’s wrath down upon the Welsh.  Siwan herself died seven years later and was buried in Llanfaes Friary, near present-day Beaumaris in Anglesey.
These events form the basis of “Siwan”, the major 1956 dramatic poem in Welsh by playwright Saunders Lewis, who lived in Hanover Street and in Newton, and it is arguably his finest play.  It may have caught his attention when Saunders Lewis was Welsh lecturer at University College of Wales, Swansea, from 1922 to 1936, for a field near Parc le Breos is called Cae Gwilym Ddu - Black William’s Field.  There is a tradition that de Breos’s body was brought back from North Wales and buried there.  However, Nigel Jenkins points out that there are similarly named fields in other parts of Wales, and he doubts whether in those days a body would be brought to Gower from North Wales: so the tradition is tenuous. 
Pennard Castle may have built by another William de Breos who died in 1290, while one who died in 1326 gave Hunts Farm to his huntsman William de Hunde in 1317, and another ordered a rebel Gwilym (William) Cragh from Llanrhidian to be hung - yet Cragh, known as “the hanged man”, miraculously survived. 
Thankfully historians Gerald Gabb and Derek Draisey have studied the maze of persons named William de Breos, and are well equipped to handle enquiries about that family.

Saturday 10 March 2018

150 Harri Webb

150 Harri Webb
In Pennard, St Mary’s churchyard contains the remains of three local poets - Nigel Jenkins, who died in 2014 and whose parents lived at what was Kilvrough Manor’s Home Farm, Vernon Watkins, who died overseas in 1967 but whose ashes are in the churchyard, and Harri Webb, who never lived in Pennard, but who was buried in his parents’ grave in 1995.
Harri Webb’s father had been brought up on a farm at High Pennard, while his mother was from Oxwich.  Harry (as his name was originally spelt) was born in September 1920 in Sketty, where his parents lodged.  When he was nearly two years old the family moved to 58 Catherine Street in the Sandfields, which remained the family home for over 70 years.  His father worked at the Strand electricity works, and later at Tir John Power Station.  Harry went to Oxford Street School and Glanmôr Secondary School (at that time a boys’ school), both now demolished.  He was the first Glanmôr pupil to obtain a scholarship to Oxford, where he studied medieval and modern languages at Magdalene College.  During the war he served in the Royal Navy, and his language skills were utilised by the Special Branch.
After the war he began to learn Welsh, joined Plaid Cymru and later the Welsh
Republican Movement (which was wound up in 1957), and edited its newspaper.  He took various jobs until in 1952 he began working at Cheltenham Public Library, and like poet Philip Larkin he became a librarian - at Dowlais branch in Merthyr Tydfil, and at Mountain Ash, where he made innovations by lending LP records, and buying books and periodicals to appeal to a female readership.
Having changed the spelling of his first name to Harri, he described his poetry as “unrepentantly nationalistic”.  His first poetry collection “The Green Desert”, which was published in 1969 and won a Welsh Arts Council prize, concerned the history and social condition of Wales, and in total he had four poetry collections published.  Many of his poems focus on local subjects like Cox’s Farm (Swansea Prison), seaman Edgar Evans, the Rebecca Riots, Vernon Watkins, the Prince Ivanhoe shipwreck and Tir John Power Station.  Harri Webb’s poems reveal his radical Welsh nationalist politics, and include such Welsh subjects as the Senghenydd colliery disaster, the Maid of Cefn Ydfa, the arson at Pen-y-berth which involved Saunders Lewis, Guto Nyth Brân, who inspired the annual Nos Galan runs in Mountain Ash, and Dic Penderyn, about whom he also wrote a play.  His humour emerges in the couplet “Merlin’s Prophecy 1969”:
One day, when Wales is free and prosperous
And dull, they’ll all be wishing they were us.
Harri Webb also wrote pamphlets, such as “Dic Penderyn and the Merthyr Rising of 1831”, spoke at political meetings, stood as a Plaid Cymru candidate for Pontypool, wrote poetry in Welsh, and from the 1970s wrote scripts for television.  For three years from 1957 he was chairman of Merthyr Tydfil’s eisteddfod committee.  He translated from Spanish to English, including six of Lorca’s poems, and adapted stories from the Mabinogion for children, published as “Tales from Wales” in 1984.
But after a stroke the following year he was virtually housebound, and in November 1994 was moved to Swansea, into St David’s nursing home in St Helens Road, where he died on New Year’s Eve.  His mother had died in 1939 while he was at University, and his father in 1956, and both had been buried in St Mary’s churchyard, Pennard. Harri Webb was buried in that same grave beyond the east wall of the cemetery.  His Collected Poems were published in December 1995, edited by his friend Meic Stephens, owner of the copyright of his work.  In his memory the Harri Webb Prize for poetry was established.   





Thursday 8 March 2018

149 Southey's descendant

149 Southey’s descendant
In the course of his lengthy preface to the 1802 edition of “Lyrical Ballads”, William Wordsworth stated that “Poetry … is emotion recollected in tranquillity”.  Certainly a poet would usually require some peace and quiet in order to produce what the American Paul Simon would call “words that tear and strain to rhyme”.
When in Laugharne Dylan Thomas would retire during the afternoons to the Boathouse to work on drafts of his poems (although Caitlin suspected that he did not use his time there quite so constructively), whereas his friend Vernon Watkins would begin to write after 9pm, following a day’s work in the bank in Swansea, and when his children had gone to bed.  A descendant of another poet thought that a remote Gower cave might be conducive to inspire him to write poetry.
The poet who compared Swansea Bay with the Bay of Naples, Walter Savage Landor, was a friend of Robert Southey, who like Wordsworth was one of the “Lake Poets”.  Incidentally, Southey also wrote biographies of John Wesley, Lord Nelson, William Cowper and others, as well as “The story of the three bears” - though his account includes an old woman instead of Goldilocks!  The user of a Gower cave was Southey’s great-nephew, a tenant at Stouthall in the 1880s.  That estate had been inherited in 1787 by John Lucas, who rebuilt the mansion to a design of architect William Jernegan, for members of the Lucas family to live there until Colonel Edward Wood died leaving no male heir in 1876, whereupon Stouthall was rented out to tenants.
At Rhossili, Worm’s Head contains an almost inaccessible cave in the sheer rock-face of the Outer Head, about 15ft above the high water mark.  This was noted by Henry VIII’s antiquarian John Leland, who wrote (with spelling modernised) of a “Hole at the point of Worm’s Head, but few dare enter it, and men (relate) that a door within the spacious hole has been seen with great nails on it”.
Bernard Morris in the Gower Society’s publication “The Caves of Gower” states that from the cave entrance a passage leads to a large chamber, from which a further passage continues deep into the rock, and that bones of mammoth, bear and reindeer have been uncovered during excavations there. 
Southey’s great-nephew, who was an eccentric revolver-carrying man, paid to jump into the sea off scaffolding while Port Eynon lifeboat station was being built in 1883!  Inspired to write poetry, he had a table and chair rowed out to the Worm and placed in the cave at the Outer Head.  As a place to recollect emotion in tranquillity it may have few rivals, though accessibility and lighting would be difficult.  The cave is difficult if not dangerous to reach, and would afford access by sea only when the tide was right.  It seems unlikely that anything literary was actually produced there.                      
Peninsular Gower’s countryside has inspired poetry from many people, though not apparently from Southey’s descendant.  Perhaps he was a town dweller, for the advantages of living in Stouthall mansion amid such surroundings held little attraction for him: before long he was riding each week (and soon nearly every day) into the town of Swansea to idle away his time drinking at the Albion Inn, which used to stand in Union Street.  He declared “there is nothing to see in Gower”, which even 150 years ago flies in the face of Gower’s castles, beaches and countryside, with the superb views.  Besides, for a public house he had only to ride as far as Parkmill, where Major Thomas Penrice of Kilvrough had built The Gower Inn in 1824. 
By contrast with this temporary resident, people like Vernon Watkins, Dylan Thomas, Nigel Jenkins and others have managed to convey their appreciation of Gower in poetic form, perhaps because they never attempted to do so from within a remote inhospitable cave.     

Wednesday 7 March 2018

148 Rhyddings

148 Rhyddings
Behind St Gabriel’s Church in Bryn Road runs Brynmill Crescent, and in turn above that runs St Alban’s Road.  At the junction with Bernard Street, number 16 is a much altered house built in the mid-eighteenth century called The Rhyddings.  This used to stand alone, but is now in the heart of the suburb of Brynmill, which from the 1890s was built on fields that once surrounded this mansion house.
The earliest depiction of Rhyddings showing its original appearance is entitled “Rough view of Swansea, 7th August 1783” by Lieutenant William Booth, who was an ensign in what later became the Royal Engineers.  His viewpoint is close to Brynmill Primary School in St Alban’s Road.  Lieut. Booth’s sketchbook emerged in Australia in 1927, and was sent to historian W.H. Jones at Swansea Museum.  The late Bernard Morris wrote that Lieut. Booth “has drawn a bulky but quite modest house with two floors and an attic”, and he made out four equally-spaced windows on the first floor, with the ground floor entrance set centrally with two windows each side.  He wrote in 1989 that the house by then was “very greatly altered and extended”.
Among significant people who have lived at Rhyddings, albeit only for a short time, was the poet Walter Savage Landor in 1796, when he encountered 16-year-old Rose Aylmer, who inspired one of his poems.  Landor was a friend of Charles Dickens, and it seems that Mr Boythorn’s character in “Bleak House” was based on him.  Landor is well known for his comparison, made many years after he had left Swansea, of Swansea Bay with the Bay of Naples, though it is by no means clear which location was his preference.
Local artist Emma Cownie has painted several Brynmill scenes, including Rhyddings.  She notes in her blog that “its pebble-dashed exterior was tinged grey with neglect ... and it seemed out of place among the tight terraces”.  Her research revealed that it was one of a few large houses to the west of Swansea, with eight generously-sized bedrooms, an orchard, a walled garden, and farmland.  Besides superb views across the Bay, from 1837 one could have seen to the north-west the new Brynmill Reservoir, which later became Brynmill Park’s lake.  The house was struck by lightning during an autumn thunderstorm in 1831, and sustained bomb damage during the last war.
The best known occupier was Dr Thomas Bowdler, from Box near Bath, from 1811.  His name has gone into the English language with the verb “to bowdlerise”, which a dictionary defines as meaning “to remove passages or words regarded as indecent from a play or novel, to expurgate”.  Bowdler has been called “the censor of Shakespeare”, for while at Rhyddings he produced in 1818 “The Family Shakespeare” in ten volumes, building on his sister’s earlier edition omitting “whatever is unfit to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies”.  However, the abridgements and alterations did make Shakespearian plays known to a wide audience.
Bowdler died at Rhyddings in 1825 aged 70, and bequeathed to St Mary’s Church a painting of the Madonna and Child by the 17th century Italian Sassoferrato.  Although this was destroyed during wartime bombardment, a full-colour digital replica now hangs in the church.  Bowdler’s funeral cortѐge was the last to proceed along the tide-line from Swansea to Mumbles, for he was buried in a chest grave on the east side of All Saints’ churchyard, as there was no further space around St Mary’s.  His extensive library he left to what was then St David’s Theological College in Lampeter.  The verb “to bowdlerise” was in usage from 1838, thirteen years after his death. 
Rhyddings is not only the name of the former mansion and of the Brynmill pub, but of an area in Neath, a school in Accrington, a kennels in Leeds, and much else - though the word’s actual meaning is unknown.

Thursday 1 March 2018

147 Pennard Golf Club

147 Pennard Golf Club
What links Pennard, Clyne, Langland and Swansea Bay?  All are names of local golf clubs, which might sound unhistorical until one finds that the earliest club in the Swansea area has on its land a ruined castle and the remains of an ancient church mentioned in a document of 1291.  
Golf as we know it originated in Scotland in the fifteenth century, even before Tudor times.  But golf was banned as an unwelcome distraction to learning archery, although this ban was lifted in 1502 once the Scottish King himself took up the sport!  The first clubs were formed soon afterwards, though in this area clubs are much more recent.  Swansea Bay Golf Club started in 1892 in Sketty Park, but then moved to Jersey Marine, onto the estate owned by the Earl of Jersey, placing it now in Neath-Port Talbot.  This leaves Pennard, founded in 1896, as the earliest golf club in the Swansea area.
Pennard Burrows was part of the Kilvrough estate, owned by Thomas Penrice, who had inherited it from his uncle of the same name in 1846.  Fifty years later Thomas Penrice gave permission for golf to be played on the Burrows, but he limited the size of the club to merely 20 members, entailing an extensive waiting list.  At that time access to the golf links was difficult, with no road from Pennard Church, merely a track leading to the few dwellings in what is now the village of Southgate.
After Thomas Penrice died in 1908, Kilvrough passed to his elder daughter, Lady Louisa Lyons, and the club was re-constituted at a meeting at the Metropole Hotel in Wind Street, chaired by founder-member Colonel Llewellyn Morgan.  The number of members was increased from 20 to 50, though Lady Lyons retained considerable control, permitting only a 15-year lease.  Ladies could join as Associate Members, though they needed to be re-elected annually.  An 18-hole course was laid out to a plan of Scotsman James Braid, a notable golf course architect and five times Open Champion, with one hole even being across the road until 1911.
But after the First World War the members had an opportunity to purchase the Burrows, since the Kilvrough estate had to be broken up.  Admiral Lyons had lost heavily through his German investments, and the estate passed to his son, who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.  Thus in 1920 the Golf Club acquired Pennard Castle and the remains of the church.
Sunday play was permitted, which was not always the case in golf clubs at that time.  Alcohol could be brought onto the premises, but there was no licence for selling alcohol until 1930.  The course had a reputation for being very sandy, with huge areas of loose sand blown about in the wind, for it was a haven for rabbits, until their population was decimated by myxomatosis in the 1950s.  Over the years the course has had a number of alterations, with major changes in 1965 and 1993.  Dry spells of weather could curtail the water supply to the greens, so a concrete Pump House was constructed in the Pennard valley to supply water from the Pennard Pill.  The water tower was erected in 1923 in the 2.5-acre Tower Field and continued in use for over sixty years, becoming a local landmark visible from many parts of Gower.
After fire destroyed the timber single-storey clubhouse in July 1964, a two-storey clubhouse was erected the following year with sectional timber units.  That was replaced by the present clubhouse, opened in July 2001 by Max Faulkner, the 1951 Open Champion. 
Past and present members include Dr Teddy Morgan, who scored the winning try when Wales beat the 1905 All Blacks, the late Don Shepherd, Glamorgan cricket’s outstanding bowler, and Vicky Thomas, who represented Great Britain in three winning Curtis Cup teams against America.  So Pennard Golf Club has quite a history!  

Tuesday 13 February 2018

146 Kinglsley Amis

146 Kingsley Amis
Anyone walking from Cwmdonkin Park in the Uplands, with its associations with Dylan Thomas, and leaving by the lower entrance into The Grove, may notice on the left a blue plaque outside number 24.  This is to commemorate another notable writer in the English language, not a Swansea-born poet like Dylan, yet a novelist who worked at Swansea University for 12 years.  That blue plaque states that Kingsley Amis, who lived from 1922 to 1995, was a novelist who lived there from 1951 to 1955.
Born in Clapham, south London, Kingsley Amis won a scholarship to St John’s College, Oxford, where he met poet Philip Larkin (who was also a good friend of Pennard poet Vernon Watkins).  National Service and the Second World War interrupted his studies, but after completing his degree in English, Amis became a junior lecturer at University College of Wales, Swansea, in 1949.  He lived in lodgings near the Guildhall and in St. Helen's Crescent, as well as in various flats and houses in Sketty, in Mumbles and the Uplands, until he left Swansea in 1961. 
Amis achieved fame in 1954 with his first novel “Lucky Jim”, published days after his third child, and only daughter, was born at 24 The Grove, which had been purchased through an inheritance received by his wife and to which they had recently moved.  The novel was a critical success, satirising the high-brow academic set of a provincial university, and was translated into twenty languages including Polish, Hebrew and Korean.  It won him the Somerset Maugham award for fiction, and was made into a 1957 film starring Ian Carmichael.  “Lucky Jim”, which is dedicated to Philip Larkin, draws on the author’s experiences and clashes with academia in telling the exploits of a reluctant lecturer at an English university.  In the opinion of author Christopher Hitchens, it is the funniest book in the second half of the 20th century.
In 1955 a second novel “That Uncertain Feeling” was published, also set in Swansea, thinly disguised as Aberdarcy, with a film adaptation entitled “Only Two Can Play”, where Peter Sellers played the frustrated librarian.  The 1962 film used the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery as the library, rather than the actual Central Library, which stood then on the opposite side of Alexandra Road.  In this novel Amis bitterly satirises Swansea’s Little Theatre - describing the characters from a superior, ironical point of view as vulgar, provincial and immoral. 
Like poet Vernon Watkins, Amis visited the United States twice during his time in Swansea, becoming Visiting Fellow in Creative Writing at Princeton University.  Although he disliked Dylan, through his friendship with Swansea solicitor Stuart Thomas he became a trustee of the Dylan Thomas Trust.  Amis was the precise opposite of Vernon Watkins, who looked for the good qualities in people.
After leaving Swansea, Amis concentrated on writing - including poetry, essays, science fiction and short stories.  Twice divorced, he had joined the British Communist party when he went up to Oxford, though he later became right-wing, and admitted to mild anti-semitism.  Having twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, he was awarded this for “The Old Devils” in 1986, written mainly at Cliff House in Laugharne, which nostalgically recalls Swansea 25 years after he left.  His second son Martin (also a novelist) considers this novel his father’s masterpiece, commenting, “It stands comparison with any English novel of the century.” 
In 1990 Amis was knighted, but five years later his excessive drinking caught up with him, and he died at St Pancras Hospital in London aged 73.  Essayist Christopher Hitchens stated, “The booze got to him in the end, and robbed him of his wit and charm, as well as of his health.”                                                              
Although the film was made over fifty years ago, for Swansea people it is “Only Two Can Play” that demonstrates the wit and humour of Kingsley Amis at its best.