Betty John Cefn Llwyd

I had a lovely afternoon exploring my mother’s reminiscences with our village Mothers’ Union last week. They all remembered her as the elegant elderly lady who came to Evensong and were intrigued by the story of her childhood on a farm between Newport and Cardiff and her struggle to get an education. I have promised to go back again and talk about her time at university and the war years in Chepstow.

I rescued her reminiscences and put them on this site but on a page which talked about her last illness and death. Here they are again without that rather sad introduction.

Reminiscences of farming life in the 1920s

Education for the people

War Years in Chepstow

Larkfield Grammar School in World War II

The pilgrim game

posted in: Pilgrimage | 4

When I was an undergraduate, way back when, we played board games like Risk, sometimes all night. We still have the odd game of Monopoly at Christmas, but I hadn’t realised that board games were a Thing until my daughter told me that was what they did on holiday – and I found that my son-in-law actually helps lead a board gaming group.

So I said ‘Who’d have thought it?’ and moved on.

Then last autumn with my lovely colleague Maria Nita I was invited to Swansea Museum to talk about pilgrimage at an open day, part of the National Museum’s ‘Saving Treasures – Telling Stories’ project. This does what it says – telling the stories behind some of the little objects handed in as part of the Portable Antiquities scheme. Some of the finds in Swansea Bay were pilgrim badges and they wanted to know more about them. This led to more events involving Museum volunteers, women’s groups from Gower and the lovely lads from the Gurnos Men’s Support Group. We walked them along our pilgrimage route to Penrhys and they went mudlarking in Swansea Bay.

And the Museum came up with the idea of a board game. I think they were thinking of a fairly simple children’s game – fall in the river, throw a double to get out, find a good hostel, get a second go, and so on. But I took to wondering about a grown-up game as well. You could choose an avatar (Margery Kempe, anyone?), collect the kit, choose your route, have all sorts of decisions to make on the way.  My son-in-law suggested we look at a game called Tokaido because it was one of the earliest journeying board games. A couple of colleagues said they were interested – one is a member of a board gaming group in Cardiff.

Then it all fizzled out.

Until this week when there was something on Twitter about the Reformation board game https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/200834/sola-fide-reformation – see thread at https://twitter.com/heritagepilgrim/status/904452513730101248 – and I replied that I had thought about designing a board game on pilgrimage. There was a surprising amount of enthusiasm. Here’s a suggestion for the board https://twitter.com/nickswarb/status/904841167925387264 and a lot of ideas about detail. History of Religious Women (@H_WRBI  ) wanted ‘rivalry between Jesuits &bishop, please? Need to bet on which shrine you should work towards, with SJ/Bp conflict in background’. I explained that being a medievalist I’d been thinking of something medieval . @H_WRBI said fine, bishop and Dominicans, we could do the post-Ref version as extension.

Now, I know next to nothing about designing board games – and even less about online games, which I think this one might have to be. But it does seem like a fun idea. You could choose a character – one of Chaucer’s pilgrims, maybe? You could start by collecting the standard kit – hat, scrip, boots, staff – and getting it blessed by the bishop. You could have the option of other kit, either to help on the journey or to get extra points (take along a relic to be blessed, a reliquary to collect something at the shrine, carry a heavy cross so you are slower on the journey etc). You could choose a destination – further afield gets more points but you are more likely to lose. We do actually have a framework for this: Pope Callixtus, bless him, decreed that 2 journeys to St David’s in west Wales were the equivalent of one to Rome, and three were the equivalent of one to the Holy Land. (This was a particularly good deal if you lived in Swansea, I seem to remember saying.) You could get extra points for going to other shrines on the way – again, we have evidence for this, guide books to the route to Compostela mention other places you could visit en route. There are all the things that could happen to you on the way – again, the Compostela guide books mention plagues of flies and wasps, poisoned rivers, boatmen who tip you in the river.

I’m just putting this blog post out there – do reply with ideas, and if anyone is good at designing board games or online equivalents, we can all get in touch.

Alternative routes to Penrhys

(or How the Old Poet Got to Penrhys – part 2)

The route over Mynydd Maendy and the Afan-Ogwr watershed still looks like the best route for the Cistercian Way – clearly an old trackway, magnificent views (weather permitting) and the shortest off-road route. But it probably isn’t the way medieval pilgrims like Gwilym Tew would have gone.  Old, overweight, carrying that massive candle, he would most likely have taken the gentler route from his home near Llangynwyd, via Llangeinor and Llandyfodwg  (now better known as Glyn Ogwr) and over Mynydd William Meyrick. According to the RCAHM Glamorgan inventory the route over Mynydd William Meyrick is medieval. The rest has to be deduced from the line of byways and green lanes.

I’ve been meaning to look at this route for some time. Then I went to Llandyfodwg with Tristan Gray Hulse to look at the famous medieval effigy slab there.

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It depicts a pilgrim with staff, satchel and badges including a scallop shell, the crossed keys of St Peter and – crucially – another badge showing keys on a ring. Tristan thinks this may actually show the saint himself. According to legend, Tyfodwg locked himself in chains as a penitential act and threw away the key. He then went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he found the key in a fish he was given to eat.

There is another Welsh parish named after Tyfodwg: the old name of Ystrad Rhondda, between Treherbert and Tonypandy, was Ystradyfodwg. Before the Industrial Revolution, this was a huge and sparsely-populated curacy, covering the whole of the Rhondda and dependent on the rectory of Llantrisant. (This all looks like the remains of a minster church set-up providing for the spiritual needs of a small Welsh kingdom.) The old church in Ystradyfodwg was where Ton Pentre church is now (the Cistercian Way goes past it). As far as we can see from surviving records, though, this church was never actually dedicated to Tyfodwg: the earliest sources record it as dedicated to St John the Baptist. Was this an early second millennium rededication? Possibly – or (the theory on the Llandyfodwg church web site) was Tyfodwg an early Welsh ruler of the whole area who brought Christianity there and was eventually regarded locally as a saint? So the whole Rhondda area was Ystrad Dyfodwg, Tyfodwg’s valley, and Llan Dyfodwg was possibly the church where he died and was buried.

Mike Ash of the Glamorgan Ramblers has looked at old maps of the area around Ton Pentre. A trackway ran north of where the church is now. There seems to have been a bridge just north of the modern bridge, and there are also rocky outcrops which could have provided the supports for a medieval timber bridge.  Writing in about 1540, the antiquarian and general surveyor John Leland said there were timber bridges across the two Rhonddas just west and east of Penrhys.

The parish of Llandyfodwg has raised money to conserve the effigy and reposition it off the floor and in a more accessible position. Might there be scope for a parish pilgrimage, from Llandyfodwg to Ystradyfodwg? Time to put the boots on …

The Royal Commission’s route up the ridge from Llandyfodwg isn’t the obvious one along the bridleway from SS 95766 87306. Instead, it goes up the west side of Cwm Dimbath, and along the footpath which leaves Dimbath Lane at SS 94802 87782. The beginning is very overgrown

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but there is a hollow lane visible from about SS 94769 87831 (still very overgrown)

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and some travellers clearly didn’t make it … .

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This hollow lane continues up the edge of the fields to SS 94439 88211, skirts the coal tip (suggesting it was an old boundary) and goes into the forest at SS 94171 88861. From here it follows the forest road to SS 94999 90679 then cuts across the angle of the forest road to the edge of the forest at SS 95271 91052. This section has had a lot of off-roading damage.

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Nell likes off-roading damage because it makes puddles. Cara doesn’t like it because she gets stuck in the ruts.

The track continues round the head of Cwm y Fuwch. From there it has been interrupted by the building of yet another wind farm but it should be possible to pick it up again as it climbs to re-enter the forest on Mynydd William Meyrick at SS 95636 92082. From there it slants down along forest roads and presumably follows the line of the public footpath down the steep side of Cwm Cesig and into Ton Pentre.

We thought we ought to turn back when we got to the wind farm. My recently-purchased 1:25,000 OS map didn’t have the wind farm on it, but the online version does. I wanted to cut across to look at the bridleway to the east of Cwm Dimbath. Unfortunately the paths across the moor are confused by the access tracks for the wind farm – we could see the stile but between us and it was knee deep bog. We ended up on a lengthy diversion through the forest but we eventually got back on track. The bridleway is another well-marked hollow trail

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and seems to be waymarked from Llandyfodwg at least as far as SS 96269 90405, where it descends into the valley of the Ogwr Fach. This might be a better route for any walk between the two churches.  From this point, where the bridleway crosses the windfarm access road,  your best bet would be to follow the access road to SS 95711 91940, bear left with the road to SS 95601 91865 and pick up the line of the footpath into the forest.

Chwyldro! Chartist events this autumn

posted in: Welsh History | 0

It’s going to be a Chartist autumn …

Sponsored by Our Chartist Heritage (OCH) and CHARTISM e-Mag:

10th Annual Newport Chartist Convention 2016
Saturday November 5th     09.30 – 16.30
Venue: JOHN FROST SCHOOL,
Lighthouse Road, Newport, NP10 8YD

The school (formerly Duffryn High School) is marking its adoption of the name of the iconic Newport Chartist leader
by hosting this year’s convention.
For programme details, location map and to book your place

GO TO  https://chartist-convention-2016.eventbrite.co.uk

Tickets are £10 with lunch
£7 without lunch
£3 student with lunch
£0 student without

This year’s keynote speaker is Professor Malcolm Chase (Leeds University), who will be exploring Welsh Chartism in the aftermath of the Newport Rising of November 1839
Throughout the day, pupils will pay tribute to the Chartists through musical and other artistic contributions.  Other speakers include: Dr. Katrina Navickas, Peter Strong, Dr. Elin Jones, Catrin Edwards, Sarah Richards and Les James.

 

ALSO JOHN  FROST is ‘APPEARING’ in the Australian made Film

‘DEATH OR LIBERTY’  touring SOUTH WALES
24th & 25th November 2016

Dr. Tony Moore (Monash University, Australia), author and film maker will introduce and discuss his film at Three Venues:

CARDIFF, NEWPORT and MONMOUTH

There will be a special OPEN FORUM held at GWENT ARCHIVES (Ebbw Vale) to discuss development of a transnational POLITICAL CONVICTS PROJECT attended by Tony Moore and other Australian guests.

See link below for full details of this Tour and the forum
and how to order your tickets

death-or-liberty

And finally:

Prof Paul Pickering, Dean of the Australian National University, will give a paper on the implication of Chartism on the international stage on Friday, 4 November at 7.30 pm at the Newport City Campus of the University of South Wales. This was arranged by Dr Richard Allen and is sponsored by the Humanities Research Institute of the University.


An Honourable Estate

posted in: Family | 0

Some more wedding photos – and another speech. Photos are all from the online album – lots more at  http://www.wedpics.com/album/GI4TGNZWGIZQ .

Here we are in the porch

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the amazing bus that Sean’s dad arranged to get us into Cardiff

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Rachel and bridesmaids playing around in the park

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of course there was a Pokémon in the park

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going into the reception

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the cake

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the statutory Top Table Selfie

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The two Best Men’s speech was great fun and very moving

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(Limericks to follow when we get them scanned)

Rachel and Sean’s first dance

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then it got a bit more freeform

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and the Happy Couple are now at an Unknown Location with blue sky, blue sea, Quiet Pool and a nice man who comes round every hour with watermelon and ices. Gosh, it’s tough.

The Excellent Mystery

posted in: Family | 1

According to the old Prayer Book, marriage is ‘an honourable estate, instituted of God … and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.’

Of course, no-one would now enter into marriage unadvisedly or lightly. You need to plan at least a year ahead to get a decent venue for the reception. Vicars tear their hair out when couples arrange the venue first and try to book the church as an afterthought. Being a determinedly contrary family, we did the whole thing for my daughter’s wedding base over apex by booking the organist first, having lengthy debates over hymns and readings and doing the reception in our National Museum. (It’s a brilliant venue. You get drinks in the Impressionists gallery – white wine only, please – then a meal in the great hall and plenty of room for dancing afterwards, all under the eye of statues and massive wall paintings.)

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We live only a couple of hundred yards from St Michael and All Angels, so the plan was for Rachel to walk to the church. After the reception they planned a ridiculous amount of time for photographs in the park, then we could go into the museum by one entrance as the great public was being ushered out by the other.

All we needed was fine weather. I was compulsively checking long-range forecasts, it looked as though it might be OK … then, the weekend before the wedding, Steve had a bad ocular migraine. After five days he went to the doctor, who sent him for tests – and we discovered he had had a stroke. His vision was affected, but nothing else as far as we could see. He was able to get out of hospital for the rehearsal but it sent his blood pressure soaring. He fought his way out again for the actual ceremony, had a rest, our lovely neighbour Nick took him into Cardiff for the reception, he did his speech at the beginning and Nick took him back to hospital. Of course, his blood pressure had now subsided! and he was allowed home.

Apart from that it all went well … glorious weather, great fun getting ready, lovely service. (All the photos in this post are Nick’s as well – this is what you get when you are a Prof of Operations Management. Multi-tasking.)

Here’s Sean waiting for the bride to arrive

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and here he is with the Best Men. (There are two. If you have two best friends, how do you choose?)

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Steve had chosen for his reading Christina Rosetti’s poem ‘That First Day’

I wish I could remember that first day,

First hour, first moment of your meeting me,

If bright or dim the season, it might be

Summer or Winter for aught I can say;

So unrecorded did it slip away,

So blind was I to see and to foresee,

So dull to mark the budding of my tree

That would not blossom yet for many a May.

If only I could recollect it, such

A day of days! I let it come and go

As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;

It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

If only now I could recall that touch,

First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!

 

Alas, he couldn’t read it – couldn’t see to read it – so I had to.

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Then Rhys, one of the best men, read the Wedding at Cana, in Welsh. (Always my favourite Bible reading. Even Jesus has to do what his mother tells him sometimes.)

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Then we got to the important bit. They really said the vows with meaning

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and the kiss

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Here we are outside the church

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Rachel with her maid of honour / godsister

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Steve and me with the Canadian cousins

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And here is Steve proposing the health of the bride and groom.

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Steve’s speech:

By now, most of you know that I have been kidnapped by the National Health Service and held to ransom at Heath Hospital. I’m not actually here: this is a hologram produced by some CGI kit left over from Star Wars (a film the vicar and I bonded over). So we’ve moved the speech by the father of the bride to this point in the proceedings, because the beginning of the speech is a welcome and the end is a toast, and you’ve all got a glass in your hands.

Family – no longer two families – including godparents and friends, Croeso, Welcome, Bienvenue (Sean, what’s the Swedish for Welcome?). At this point, having greeted you from Wales, the rest of Britain, Canada, France, Sweden and America, I would greet family from New Zealand by performing a Haka. BUT … this would of course embarrass Rachel.

But isn’t that what the father of the bride is supposed to do?

So – no haka. And I won’t be dancing. I won’t be singing Mariah Carey’s Greatest Hits. I won’t be telling embarrassing stories about Rachel: because whilst I know some, I don’t really know any about Sean (I’ll leave that to the Best Men’s speech). And this is supposed to be a toast to the Bride And Groom. (Gender equality.)

So no stories about giraffes, or anything I promised not to mention. I did ask Maddy how I could embarrass the bride and she said ‘Just turn up’.

Which only leaves a tiny bit of audience participation – that’s you lot. (Audience groan.) Don’t worry, nobody’s turning out the lights. Ladies and gentlemen: if you are married, or have ever been married, please raise your hand. (Pause.) Rachel and Sean will now memorise all of you, and if they ask, you will be able to tell them what marriage is like. (Thank you. Hands down.)

Thank you all for being here. Some have crossed oceans and continents, others are from places rather nearer; and we think of those who are unable to be here. I think we have to give the furthest distance prize to those from New Zealand because if they travelled any further they would have gone the other way.

Wedding guest lists are often dominated by the past. People Sean knew and Rachel knew before they knew each other; families they were born into; godparents and a god-sister they were blessed with; but a little secret. When doing guest lists, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. For some people, being invited is important, even though they know they won’t be able to get there. One of several criteria Rachel and Sean used when drawing up their list was that they wanted guests who would be part of their future, not just their past.

No pressure!

So, today, in the nowness of now, in the hereness of here, a wedding. The formal start to a marriage. And marriage is the classic paradox. Like other people’s marriages, but Sean and Rachel’s is unique to them. Two people trying to live as one. Two people trying to see both sides of things from the point of view of one.

Rachel’s mother Maddy has many accomplishments. I’m going to say something nice about her, which she hates, as a sort of revenge. The one accomplishment that Rachel admires most is Maddy’s ability to put up with me for the past 45 years of marriage.

The old Book of Common Prayer called marriage ‘an excellent mystery’, where ‘mystery’ meant the skills to be learned, the knowledge to be gained, like the ‘mystery’ of a medieval guild.

Finally, then, A Poem What I Wrote. (The toast is at the end – so be ready!) The theme of this speech is also the title of the poem, because I wrote it that way.

Marriage is a mystery to be learnt.

Walking side by side,
talking face to face,
hold each other tightly
but give each other space.

Read each other’s faces,
learn the language of the eyes,
listen to the silences;
then, thoughtful
becomes wise.

If you fail to remember,
or if you forget some part,
it was a flaw in your memory
not a fault in your heart.

Cherish each other, be happy, be joyful;
balance each other, be open, be hopeful.

At future wedding receptions
you will stand amongst the guests
as a couple who are married.
And when the host requests,
you will raise your glistening glasses
as the toast rings round the room:
‘Ladies and gentlemen. Rachel and Sean – The Bride And Groom!’

    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

The speeches by the groom and best men will need a separate blog post – as will the rest of the reception including some rather wild dancing. Well, if you have a Bollywood dress you have to try to live up to it.

What a day.

O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church: Look mercifully upon these thy servants … O Lord, bless them both, and grant them to inherit thy everlasting kingdom.

Graduation day

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Something a bit more cheerful – some lovely photos of our last graduation day. Here’s the sports hall as the graduands process in.

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With Kerry, Justin and Dominic in the Board Room after.

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Team photo with Nathan practising for next year.

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Justin got the dissertation prize for a stunning dissertation on population movement and crime in nineteenth-century Monmouthshire. Here he is with his wife (one of our graduates from a couple of years ago) and the head of History, Dr Lock-Lewis

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and here in a team photo

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and here’s me with Kerry, probably the student who is closest to my own research interests

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cheers!

Weep, weep, o Walsingham

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose
But the Queen of Walsingham
to be my guide and muse.

Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.

Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravenous wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.

Bitter was it, O to view
The sacred vine,
Whilst the gardeners played all close,
Rooted up by the swine.

Bitter, bitter, O to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.

Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand,
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that Holy Land.

Level, level, with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which, with their golden glittering tops,
Pierced once to the sky.

Where were gates are no gates now,
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame was blown.

Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung,
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.

Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.

Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven is turned to hell,
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway —
Walsingham, O farewell!

 

Last graduation day on campus. Office empty, library almost empty. Tearful students. The ceremony featured what I can only call the B team – pro-Chancellor, pro-Vice Chancellor, reading speeches clearly written for them by Marketing and Communications. That would be the same Marketing and Communications team that told us all we weren’t to comment on the plans for disposal of the campus – apparently we were supposed to say “Sorry, I’m not really involved in the campus changes programme. Let me find and / introduce you to my colleague who knows more about it all.” [then introduce to a member of the Corporate Communications team]

Some of us felt we had to try to explain to them as gently as possible the many ways that could have gone wrong. I mean, suppose we had forgotten our words? Or written them down, then couldn’t find our reading glasses?  What would they do to us?

Of course, there was no reference to the campus closure in the speeches. They were generic, not geared to the actual subjects that were graduating, they edged up to the problem with a few words about the necessity for change and development then bottled it.

To get myself through it I started thinking about the parallels with the events in the past that I study. Some of my learned colleagues have been speculating about the parallels between Brexit and Henry VIII’s declaration of independence from the Pope in the 1530s. Part of the fallout from that was the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the destruction of shrines like Walsingham and our own Penrhys. So how did people deal with that? We know about the few brave rebels who died for their beliefs, but what about everyone else? Should we assume (as traditional histories of the Reformation did) that non-resistance meant approval, that the late medieval church was so corrupt and unpopular that it only took one push to overthrow it? Was the low recruitment in the last years of the monasteries, and the drying-up of bequests to some of the shrines, an indication that people had lost interest in them?

I don’t think anyone will be chaining themselves to the gates of my university campus, or lying down in front of the bulldozers. That doesn’t mean that people like what has happened. Ironically, there has been more of a campaign to save the building than there was to save the institution. That in itself is telling. When we were told we were being closed down, we soon realised there was very little we could do to fight it. After all, if the University management said they were reprieving us for a trial period, who would have wanted to sign up for courses on a campus that was at imminent risk of closure? The more our supporters tried to keep us open (and they did try), the more publicity the closure got. So of course we recruited badly the next year.

Might the same have been true of religious houses and shrines in the 1530s? After the closure of the smaller houses – and probably after the great survey of church property in 1535 – it must have been obvious what was going to happen. There were a few very brave men like John Houghton and his fellow Carthusian monks who resisted on a point of principle and died slowly and horribly for it. Then there were men like the abbots of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester, who thought they could play who blinks first with Thomas Cromwell. We had a vice-chancellor like that. It ended badly. It generally does.

But for most of us it has been a case of salvaging what we can and getting on with things. When monastic lands were sold off, some devout Catholics were prepared to buy them, saying ‘Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the abbey? For I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.’ Some, indeed, bought the ornaments of monastic churches to look after them in case the monasteries were ever restored, but for most it was an investment, salvaging some small profit from the mess. In the same way I took boxes of books from the University library, including a near-complete set of Archaeologia Cambrensis which now sits on my study shelves.

In 1536, monks and nuns were expected to  move from the smaller religious houses to larger and theoretically better-run ones. Only the heads of houses were pensioned off. Then as the larger houses were picked off one by one, all their inmates were pensioned. It was the other way round for us. There was an initial offer of voluntary severance but now people are just being made redundant.

There’s a bit of irony in some of the pop-up posters on campus for the day:

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Now the corridors are empty again and at the end of the month the site will finally be locked down.

Weep, weep, o Walsingham.

Penrhys – the meadow on the nose of the forest

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

First post on the new (renamed) site – there wasn’t enough room for all the blog posts and photos on the web site. So the wonderful Sarah Chong is going to reorganise my blogs, keep this one for the Cistercian Way, create another one for tomb carvings and related matters, and keep everything else on the web site. Two project blogs and three web sites – will I ever keep track of it all?

So instead I went walking. Last summer with the Rhondda Cynon Taf tourism and footpaths team I spent some time looking at routes from Penrhys up the ridge and down into Ton Pentre (it’s all on the blog but I can’t put links in just yet). The plan was to get the footpath down the slope from the wind farm to the lane above Ton Pentre waymarked in order to reinstate the footpath which had been damaged by a landslip. Unfortunately we then learned that the area of the landslip hadn’t quite settled yet – so walking through it might not be recommended.

This leaves us with two possible alternatives. Up the ridge, down the bridleway from the top of the windfarm, down Cwm Bodringallt and along the track above the houses of Ystrad Rhondda; or on up the ridge and down the old Maerdy road through the forest. Both start at the statue, take the road round the west of the estate, and turn left on a roughly metalled road at the top, between the sub-station and what remains of the sports centre, at grid reference ST 00027 95074. Walk up the metalled road and bear left along the forest edge. The road becomes a  rough track along the ridge. Follow it bearing slightly west of north with the fence and the wind farm to your left. This is an exhilarating walk along the ridge between the two Rhondda rivers with larks singing and buzzards wheeling overhead. (Gwilym Tew, the poet who wrote about the shrine at Penrhys in the late fifteenth century, had a very odd image in which he described the infant Jesus in his mother’s arms, first as like a hawk then like a lark –

A’i Mab ar ei dwrn, medd swrn a sydd
Ymyl ei hadain mal ehedydd

it’s often hard to work out just what Gwilym Tew was getting at  – to be honest, he wasn’t a very good poet and the complexity of the Welsh rules of cynghanedd often seem to have defeated him – but it’s nice to see him drawing his imagery from the actual landscape round the shrine.)

At about SS 99221 96229 you cross the road to the wind farm. At SS 98589 96828 a gate in the fence to your left leads to the bridleway down Cwm Bodringallt.

For the ridge route, keep on to the right of the forest. At SS 97472 97377 the track goes through a gap in the fence ahead of you and into the forest.

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At SS 97322 97446 a muddy track crosses the ridge route.

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(There is a dilapidated and unmarked waymarking post to the right.) Turn left and walk through the trees along a track which has been worn into deep ruts by off-road riding. At SS 97379 97209 cross a forest road and continue on the same line, bearing a little to the left and steeply down hill.

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This is the old road from Pentre to Maerdy – it could never have taken wheeled traffic but packhorses and colliers walking to work would have used it. It goes steeply down to cross a little stream, follows the stream for a bit

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the bears away to the right. The woods above Pentre church are full of laurel and rhododendron – was there a big house here? The path bends back to the left then turns left at the churchyard wall. Pentre church is the ‘Cathedral of the Rhondda’, its tower dominating the valley. Walk down past the church, turn right on the main road then left on Elizabeth Street. Walk down to the river, cross the footbridge and turn left on a metalled path which takes you under the railway line and up to the main road.

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Turn left and follow the main road for about .4 km then turn right at the police station and walk up The Parade. This becomes a roughly metalled road, then the track over Mynydd Maendy.

The route up the ridge is certainly the fun choice. The track is peaty, badly eroded and gets a lot of scrambler and 4×4 use. Nell liked the puddles.

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Probably as well she’s peat coloured anyway.

It’s quite hard going underfoot but the views from the top are spectacular – Pen y Fan, Corn Ddu and Cribyn

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round to the Black Mountains

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down the Rhondda Fawr

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the Maerdy valley

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Also old stone walls striding across the hills

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and some totally unphotographable Bronze Age burial mounds.

The track down to Pentre is pretty but very rough under foot and very very steep – it’s a long pull up the ridge only to lose your height very rapidly in the woods. And it’s about 2 km longer than the route down Cwm Bodringallt. We’ll try that one again next and see how it goes.