Heritagising dissent

posted in: Heritage (General) | 0

Michael Heseltine – flak jacket wearer, Tory leadership challenger, hero of the Westland Helicopter affair – seems to be turning into a sort of Dear Old Man. My university has just given him an honorary doctorate. When I got over gritting my teeth and rambling on about the dear old days at Greenham Common *wholefamilyyawn* I started to think about what is happening at Greenham now.

A little while ago, we went down to Basingstoke for a family get-together. To get from south Wales to Basingstoke you now go round that famous Newbury bypass, so I hadn’t really realised where I was …  then the woods started to look a bit familiar … then we came out of the trees and there was Yellow Gate. Where we did circle dancing in the road, got dragged away and flung into vans, where we tried to stop them throwing our quilts and our knitting into the muncher … and now it’s all clean and tidy and they have planted a nice little peace garden. We won, the missiles went away – so why did I feel vaguely disappointed? Would it have been better if, instead of a pretty little garden, the struggle was commemorated by a couple of tatty benders, a cooking fire and a latrine pit that really needed re-digging?

How can we commemorate dissent without sanitising it? It’s very much in our minds at the moment because of the struggle over the Newport Chartist mural. Paul Flynn has made the very good point that it was never meant to last, and it would cost more to remove, conserve and reinstate it than it would to commission a new piece of artwork. Nevertheless, its loss has obviously touched a raw nerve in a community which is also being threatened with the loss of museum and art gallery provision. But the Newport Chartist mural itself sanitised the story of protest – the banner saying ‘Votes for all men’ was conveniently obscured so that we didn’t have to remember that the Chartists had nothing to say about votes for women.

Did the Suffragettes feel the same sense of deflation when they looked back at that glad confident morning in November 1918, when the Parliamentary vote was restored to women? How would they feel about the way we commemorate their struggle, with plaques and exhibitions of banners?

 

St Teilo’s Church – the writing on the wall

Another lovely afternoon, this time at the National History Museum in St Fagan’s watching the conservators paint the texts under the re-created wall paintings. Their experience must be something like that of the original painters: they are painting texts mainly in Latin, in black-letter script. It’s not so much writing as paintings of words. There are decisions to be made about abbreviation marks, and occasional mistakes. The dynamic must be very similar to that in a medieval parish when texts had to be chosen and written out, then painted and (presumably) checked by the priest.

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This whole business of text in wall paintings is very odd. We were surprised by the amount of writing we found on the walls of St Teilo’s. There were captions – ‘Ecce Homo’ above the Bound Christ, ‘Sancta Trinitas’ under the Trinity – but perhaps more significant was a series of prayers which could guide worshippers round the church. The Image of Pity had what looks like the famous late medieval prayer ‘Jesu mercy, Lady help’ (interesting that this one was in English) and a fragment of a litany, ‘A dent …’, possibly ‘A dentibus mortis’ or ‘A dentibus infernis’ … from the teeth of death, good Lord deliver us. Under the north-west window was something we have interpreted as ‘Jesu Christe deus et homo da nobis pacem’ – ‘Jesus Christ, God and man, give us peace’. This sequence has now been fleshed out with quotations from familiar Bible passages and bits of the Easter services to accompany the paintings which tell the story of the Crucifixion.

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But why would a medieval congregation have spent time and money on painting texts on its church walls when hardly any of them could read? Of course, even if you couldn’t read, writing was Important – it told you that what you were looking at was significant. It could even have magic powers. Badges with fake writing on them, charms in strange garbled words on scraps of paper – these all suggest writing had power.

But there is more to it than that. Some of the writing was probably recognizable, even if you couldn’t read it all. The A and M of Ave Maria, the J of Jesu Mercy: people learned to identify these and to respond to them. And the efforts they went to suggest that writing had meaning for them, even if they couldn’t ‘read’ it as we would use the word. They knew it could be read, it could be read to them, they could learn what it meant. We identify the pictures by their captions; they recognized the text from the pictures.

Of course, all this is a huge challenge for the Museum to explain. Few of their visitors will be familiar with the Latin liturgy, or even with the Bible stories on the walls. They do not want to over-interpret: it’s important that visitors experience the building for themselves. But how do you explain a medieval church to a modern audience?

Why are they pouring water on that man’s head?
Why are those men kissing?
Why is that lady showing her breasts?

The Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) Galilee Project – nearly there!

If heritage trails test the breadth of your historical knowledge, historical recreations test the depth – you find out what you don’t know about your own research field.

Today’s fun job was a meeting in the National Museum in Cardiff with Mark Redknap and Chris Jones-Jenkins to finalise some reconstruction drawings of the early medieval monastery and the late medieval Galilee chapel at Llanilltud in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Galilee Project has been an amazingly ambitious and imaginative project to rehouse a collection of early medieval carved stones – the iconic ‘Celtic’ crosses of early Wales with their interlace panels and inscriptions in insular script. The crosses and pillars have been found in the area around the church. Many of them record burials of the local rulers from the second half of the first millennium, making the early medieval monastery at  Llanilltud a sort of Westminster Abbey of early Wales. They are currently in the west  end of the parish church, built by the Normans and their successors on the site of the monastery. Some of us liked that setting, where the stones mingled with display boards of Sunday School work, processional banners and other ecclesiastical impedimenta, but  it has to be said that it was difficult to see them properly. This is always going to be an issue in church heritage, and it’s thrown into sharper relief by the importance of this particular collection of stones. One the one hand, they articulate the memory of the worshipping community and they should be in the church not in the arid environment of a museum. On the other hand, in the church they are in the way of other activities and the other activities are in the way of them.

No easy answers – though in this case it’s made a bit easier because the stones were not originally inside the church: they have been moved there for safe keeping, so they can more easily be moved again.

The church is big enough, two churches, really, end to end. But in the later middle ages it was even bigger. One of the local families built a western extension, a Galilee chapel, which was used as a family chantry. There a priest said Mass for the souls of the family and (as a concession to Christian charity) all Christian souls.

Chantries were abolished at the Reformation and the Galilee chapel fell into disuse. Then a few years ago it came into its own again as a solution to the problem of the early stones. It is being rebuilt and redesigned as an exhibition centre, which will also provide much-needed toilet facilities. You can see what has been going on at http://www.illtudsgalileechapel.org.uk/ .

As part of this project, Chris Jones-Jenkins has been commissioned to provide two reconstruction drawings. One is to show the early medieval monastery with the stones in situ. The other is to show the Galilee chapel as it would have looked in use in the late fifteenth century.

Of course, the big problem is that we don’t actually know what the monastery was like. We have a very hazy description in a twelfth-century life of St Illtud, which is about as much use as a Victorian description of the Hampton Court of Henry VIII. Archaeological exploration under the church and in the graveyard is clearly not a possibility, so we have to go by sites which have been explored – which almost by definition are the less important ones, the ones that didn’t become parish churches. We don’t know exactly where the crosses were, we don’t even know the function of the carved pillars, and we have no idea at all what the surrounding landscape was like.

So why are we doing it – well, it seems important to give our best guess as to what the original setting of the stones might have been. And with Mark Redknap on board, it’s a highly educated guess.

Turning to the later medieval chapel should be easier … but even here there are huge gaps in our knowledge. We assume that a chantry mass would have involved just one priest – but he would have needed helpers, and who would they have been, and how would they have been dressed? We know the equipment needed for the celebration of the Mass would have included a holy water container and sprinkler, an incense boat, a pax, a dish of blessed bread, as well as the chalice, paten and cruet  – but where would all these have been placed when they were not actually being used? How many candles on the altar? How would the walls be decorated … what statues … what about the altar cloth … the vestments … It’s all like the St Teilo’s Project, but without even as much information as we had for that.

The work of the Experience of Worship project at Bangor (which I helped with) gives us some of the answers (see http://www.bangor.ac.uk/music/AHRC/ – and the full web site should be live any day soon), but we don’t want to do a straight copy of St Teilo’s.  The one thing I’m happy about is the tomb carvings which will be shown on the floor – I can do tomb carvings!

Sir Henry Sidney and the Three Bears

posted in: Heritage (General) | 1

Heritage footpath projects are full of traps for the unwary. Footpaths tend to slice across time, so you need a huge range of historical expertise. Then you need to be able to summarise all that knowledge in a few words for people who just want to walk. Designing the actual route is a balancing act – you need plenty of interest but it has to work as a walk. There’s no point in including your favourite site if there is no public access, or if you can only get to it along a mile of busy main road.

Having said all that, trails with a historical interest are a great way of introducing people to the history of an area, and all the research suggests that they are also a good way of encouraging people to take gentle exercise.

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Cardiff City Council has recently been putting some trails in the woods above my house. The woods round Castell Coch do get quite busy and have a lot of special interest stuff. I walk my neighbour’s dog up there most days (the famous Cara the pilgrim dog – seen here  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18532279 enlivening  this toe-curlingly embarrassing sequence of fake pilgrims at Caerphilly).

While they were filming Merlin we regularly met gangs of men dressed in chain mail, usually smoking rollups and drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups.  The actual castle sequences in Merlin were mainly filmed at Pierrefonds, north-east of Paris. Location-spotter hobbyists spent a lot of time trying to identify locations for the countryside sequences in the area round Pierrefonds but in fact most of them were filmed near Castell Coch. The woods have also been used for Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who and Torchwood, and most recently the woods and the castle featured in Da Vinci’s Demons.

All this has of course become part of the heritage of the area, but there is more conventional history as well. Cardiff Walking for Health and Outdoor Cardiff have homed in on this with some themed trails on the history of iron-making in the area and the Victorian rebuilding of the castle.

ImageSomehow they got in touch with me and asked me to advise – which since I know very little about industrial archaeology, and even less about the Victorians, was a bit of a challenge. I did manage, though, to point them in the direction of the early industrial history of the area – which since it involved a poet, a love story and the most spectacular of the iron mines in the woods, seems to have suited their needs.

It all goes back to Sir Henry Sidney, father of the poet Sir Philip. The family came from Penshurst in the Weald of Kent. Sir Henry was one of Edward VI’s childhood companions, a courtier of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I, and an early pioneer of the iron industry. He was involved in introducing the new smelting methods of the blast furnace, using water power to drive a bellows which enabled very high temperatures in the furnace. Iron ore, charcoal and limestone were fed in at the top of the furnace and molten metal was tapped off at the bottom. Sir Henry’s problem was that this enabled you to smelt much larger quantities of iron – so you needed a lot more charcoal. Wood is in theory a renewable resource, but he was felling trees in Kent faster than they could regenerate. In 1559 he became Lord President of the Council in the Marches of Wales, and it was in Wales that he found all the resources he needed. In the lower Taff valley there were steep hills with fast-flowing streams for water power, miles and miles of unused woodland, limestone and iron ore in plenty. Better still, the iron ore was haematite – not narrow veins of ironstone, difficult to extract, but huge post-volcanic globules which could easily be quarried. The hematite mines under the Garth mountain carved out huge chambers like cathedrals. In the woods above Tongwynlais the ore was nearer the surface and they could dig down for it, creating caves like the ‘Three Bears’ Cave’ and the Blue Pool.

This is where the love story comes in. To establish his family as landowners in south Wales, Sir Henry married his younger son Robert to a local heiress, Barbara Gamage. Barbara’s  father John Gamage was lord of Coety, near Bridgend, and she was his only child. When John died in 1584, Barbara was 25, which was very old for a woman of her class to be unmarried. She had a number of suitors but Sir Henry had more clout than any of them, and ‘persuaded’ her guardians to marry her to Robert. It was an unpromising beginning to the relationship, but surprisingly the ill-matched couple fell deeply in love. They had thirteen children – there’s a lovely painting of her with six of them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gheeraerts_Barbara_Gamage_with_Six_Children.jpg . Her local influence provided Robert with the county seat for Glamorgan in the parliaments of 1584-5 and 1593, and her estates helped to restore the Sidneys’ over-stretched finances. When Sir Philip died at Zutphen, Robert inherited the family estates. He and Barbara never came back to Wales, but their industrial interests in the woods above Cardiff were an important part of their wealth.

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Explaining all that on an interpretation panel is a huge challenge, but Cardiff ‘s footpaths team have done their best. You can access the walks leaflets at http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/content.asp?nav=2868,4407,5442,6305&parent_directory_id=2865&id=13121 – click on Fforest Fawr.

There was a bit of a hiccup with the waymarking. The wording on the arrows for the Sir Henry Trail was clearly borrowed from the leaflet, so it read ‘Sir Henry Trail … Mae Llwybr Syr Henri’ . The problem is that in Welsh the verb comes at the beginning of the sentence, so what you have here is ‘Sir Henry Trail …  The Sir Henry Trail is’ . I didn’t notice it, but my daughter speaks fluent Welsh and it niggled her no end. I mentioned it a couple of times when I saw the footpaths people in the woods, and to my daughter’s delight they have now corrected it.

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The next footpath project is a trail round the early medieval stones in Merthyr Mawr and Laleston.  One day I may even get back to my own Cistercian Way project, a round-Wales trail which keeps getting interrupted by the day job. Perhaps when I retire …

The Women’s Race for Life

posted in: Family | 0

Well, the tortoise and hare thing didn’t work, but we had fun anyway. About 2,000 women running, jogging and walking 5 km around the park in Cwmbran to raise money to fight cancer.

We like the Cwmbran Race for Life because it’s nice and relaxed, we can miss the pre-match warm-up and the silly young men in tutus, and we can run with Cara the pilgrim dog.

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In previous years I’ve been the one who wanted to keep running and my daughter got out of puff. This year she has been training so we ran for 2 km, walked and ran a bit, then she said she wanted to run so off she went. But I made it back only a minute after her – 34 mins to her 33. Cara would probably have done it in 15 mins, and she’s older than me in doggy years.

The Race for Life gives you the opportunity to run to celebrate someone who has survived cancer, or in memory of someone who has died. My daughter ran this year ‘for boobs’ – as well as working for a public health charity, Ash Wales, she has this year been a student volunteer co-ordinator for CoppaFeel. This is a charity which encourages young women to look after their breasts and teaches them how to check for signs of cancer.

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I ran in memory of my old friend Paul Courtney, the archaeologist, who died in May. Paul was one of the cleverest men I know, a leading expert on medieval archaeology and the theory of material culture. In spite of all this, and a publication record that most of us can only envy, he never had a ‘proper job’ – he kept going on badly-paid freelance contracts and occasional media work. Apparently this was because as a young man he was heavily involved with CND and the Young Communists – and when he was newly qualified and looking for work in the 1980s he was clearly ‘not one of us’. Self-censorship by the academic establishment goes back that far – and it was their loss.

On the way home I started wondering whether Race for Life had been about for long enough to qualify as ‘intangible heritage’. Intangible heritage is things like events and customs, rather than places and objects. In Wales, it could mean the Eisteddfod, the Mari Lwyd or the rugby internationals. Elsewhere it includes things like Mardi Gras, the Mexican Day of the Dead, Up Helly A and the Venetian carnival. My colleague David Howell, who tweets as @Kasuuta, runs an online newspaper on heritage issues and another specifically on intangible heritage – http://paper.li/Kasuutta/1347263108 and http://paper.li/Kasuutta/1347264840 for examples.

It’s a long time since I’ve done any serious running. My knees got more and more creaky. The real crisis came when I knelt down in front of a class to fix the computer and couldn’t get up again. It took the 2 strongest lads in the class to put me back on my feet, and my colleagues made silly remarks about how I’d only done it to get (insert name of cute student here) to give me a cuddle. So that was the end of running. Instead I go hill walking but somehow that uses different muscles.

As does crawling round church floors looking for medieval tombstones. But the hill walking is probably better training for pilgrimages.

Early Medieval Inscribed Stones

posted in: Archaeology | 0

I have the final volume of Nancy Edwards’ Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones to review.

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Of course, it’s brilliant, the illustrations are magnificent – what can I say? I have to think of something a little bit critical (not too critical, though, because Nancy chairs the Advisory Panel on Medieval Welsh Stone Sculpture, on which I am a newbie).

I guess one of the key questions has to be why a book at all. In the age of the internet, is printing a very expensive limited run of something like this really the best way to disseminate information? The book is far too big to carry in a backpack, though it would do well in the boot of a car. The quality of the illustrations is stunning, and until recently I would have said that for reference they are far better in printed format. Looking at Google’s Cultural Institute Art Project reproductions, though (at http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/about/ – I’ve used the amazing reproductions of Holbein’s Ambassadors with classes, but they are all good), the magnification you can now get with an online image is even better than high-quality printed photographs.

So – why the book? This series is a different matter from a research monograph, which will be chewed over and rapidly superseded. The point about the Corpus is that it is meant to last. Not that it will be the last word on any subject – this volume contains amendments to the earlier ones, and stones are still turning up. But any web site would have to be future-proofed – and as any web site  designer will tell you, the only way to future-proof a site effectively is to print it out on good-quality acid-free paper and lodge it in a library of record.  You might just as well publish it while you are at it.

Even the technology we use to access web-based materials gets rapidly outdated. I spent most of last summer (between showers) working on digital film clips to link to QR codes to explain the heritage of Monmouth and Torfaen. At our big digital heritage conference in the autumn, we were told that QR codes were old technology. I never did find out what is replacing them, but it probably won’t last much longer than they did.

So – back to the book. Volume 3 will be particularly useful for me, as it’s an area where there’s a lot of overlap between early medieval and medieval, which is where I come in. I’m working on a database of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. This is designed to take up where Nancy Edwards and the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project database leave off, and to run until 1540, by which time the changes of the Reformation were affecting tomb design and other aspects of commemoration. And yes, it’s going to be an online resource, and no, I don’t know how I’m going to future-proof it. Yet.

Nancy’s dating of some of the stones is reassuringly in line with mine (I’d hate to have to ague with her). There are stones with what look at first like flowers but are actually expanded-arm crosses. Here’s one at Llanfaglan near Caernarfon

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Of course, it’s brilliant, the illustrations are magnificent – what can I say? I have to think of something a little bit critical (not too critical, though, because Nancy chairs the Advisory Panel on Medieval Welsh Stone Sculpture, on which I am a newbie).

I guess one of the key questions has to be why a book at all. In the age of the internet, is printing a very expensive limited run of something like this really the best way to disseminate information? The book is far too big to carry in a backpack, though it would do well in the boot of a car. The quality of the illustrations is stunning, and until recently I would have said that for reference they are far better in printed format. Looking at Google’s Cultural Institute Art Project reproductions, though  – I’ve used the amazing reproductions of Holbein’s Ambassadors with classes, but they are all good), the magnification you can now get with an online image is even better than high-quality printed photographs.

So – why the book? This series is a different matter from a research monograph, which will be chewed over and rapidly superseded. The point about the Corpus is that it is meant to last. Not that it will be the last word on any subject – this volume contains amendments to the earlier ones, and stones are still turning up. But any web site would have to be future-proofed – and as any web site  designer will tell you, the only way to future-proof a site effectively is to print it out on good-quality acid-free paper and lodge it in a library of record.  You might just as well publish it while you are at it.

Even the technology we use to access web-based materials gets rapidly outdated. I spent most of last summer (between showers) working on digital film clips to link to QR codes to explain the heritage of Monmouth and Torfaen. At our big digital heritage conference in the autumn, we were told that QR codes were old technology. I never did find out what is replacing them, but it probably won’t last much longer than they did.

So – back to the book. Volume 3 will be particularly useful for me, as it’s an area where there’s a lot of overlap between early medieval and medieval, which is where I come in. I’m working on a database of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. This is designed to take up where Nancy Edwards and the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project database leave off, and to run until 1540, by which time the changes of the Reformation were affecting tomb design and other aspects of commemoration. And yes, it’s going to be an online resource, and no, I don’t know how I’m going to future-proof it. Yet.

Nancy’s dating of some of the stones is reassuringly in line with mine (I’d hate to have to ague with her). There are stones with what look at first like flowers but are actually expanded-arm crosses. Here’s one at Llanfaglan near Caernarfon

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Some of these have been dated in England to the tenth and eleventh centuries but the Welsh examples really do seem to be later. One of the things is that the crosses seem to have been drawn with a compass rather than freehand.

If you look carefully you can see the Llanfaglan cross has a boat carved on it

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the church is in the fields overlooking the Menai Straits, so this old sailor’s tombstone has now been placed so that he can look out to sea (the photos are by Ifor Williams).

Llanfaglan is a lovely old church and well worth a visit. It’s looked after by the Friends of Friendless Churches (bit of a misnomer as the church isn’t short of friends, but maintaining it was beyond the resources of the parish). You have to contact them for details of how to get a key. The church also has two of the early stones that are in Nancy’s book, some sturdy eighteenth-century woodwork, and a very strange seven-sided font. It could have been designed to be painted with the seven sacraments of the medieval church. (More on this in the Welsh Stone Forum newsletter – go to http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/welshstoneforum/newsletter/  and click on newsletters 9 and 13).

The Heritage Tortoise is now off to ‘run’ in the Cwmbran Women’s Race for Life. Now, what was that thing about the tortoise and the hare ….

Cardiff’s Martyr’s Memorial

posted in: Heritage (General) | 1

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The Heritage Tortoise … prowling round the heritage of Wales and the wider world, strolling through the undergrowth, peering up at stone carvings, eating the odd dandelion leaf …

Mary Beard has been tweeting about Cambridge,s Martyr’s Memorial, which is rather anomalously placed on a park bench (http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2013/06/the-cambridge-martyrs-memorial.html). Cardiff has its own Martyr’s Memorial, placed even more idiosyncratically on the wall of the gents’ formal suits department in James Howell’s department store. I wouldn’t think that 99% of the men who go there to get suited and booted for weddings and funerals know who it commemorates, still less why he died such a painful death.

So who was Rawlins White? According to Foxe’s Acts and Monuments  (better known as the Book of Martyrs), he was a simple Cardiff fisherman. He heard the Bible being read and preached in Cardiff, probably in the late 1540s or early 1550s, during the reign of Edward VI. Feeling that he was too old to learn this newfangled business of reading, he sent his little son to school instead, and the boy read the Bible to his father in the evenings while they were mending their nets. Though he could not read, White learned much of the Bible by heart and became a preacher himself.

But then in 1553 Edward died and his Catholic sister Mary came to power. Rawlins White was arrested, questioned and eventually burned at the stake. Foxe’s account describes him sending a message to his wife asking her to send him his best shirt to be burned in, though victims at the stake were usually stripped. The full story is online.

Martyrdom should be simple and clear – but  like so many martyrdom stories, this one is more complex than it appears. If you read between the lines of Foxe’s account, it’s clear that Rawlins White was the leader of a group of radical Protestants. He was arrested at the very beginning of Mary’s reign, at the same time as those much more high-profile martyrs Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley. And he was not executed for another two years, so he was dealt with by due process of law – Mary and her advisers were more interested in high-visibility recantations than in creating martyrs.

Then there’s the role in all this of the local bishop, Anthony Kitchin. He has had a bad press, not all of it deserved. He became bishop of Llandaff in 1545, when he was already in his 60s, and served under Henry, Edward, Elizabeth and Mary. This suggests a degree of flexibility not usually found in the Reformation period. But I have a soft spot for him, and I can see his point. Opposing government policy in those days didn’t leave you with a spell on the back benches: instead, it could lead to a slow, painful and sticky death. And what good would it do his diocese if he was removed and replaced by an extremist from one side or another? So he dug his heels in and tried to blunt the impact of some of the more dramatic changes. Reading between the lines again, we can see that he even tried to save Rawlins White, keeping him under very lax house arrest in the episcopal palace at Mathern and even encouraging him to escape.

Foxe’s story also mentions White’s associates, who were allowed to visit him in prison and encourage him. None of them were arrested or punished.

White was burned in the south part of the tiny borough of Cardiff. When the town expanded in the nineteenth century a chapel was built near the spot and a memorial plaque was put on the chapel wall. The James Howell store bought the chapel in order to expand but preserved the wall and its plaque.

Wales also has a memorial in Carmarthen to another Marian martyr, Robert Ferrar, bishop of St David’s, who seems to have fallen victim to a stitch-up by the Cathedral chapter (now, what does that remind me of …) but as far as I know there is no memorial to the third Protestant martyr, another Cardiff man, Thomas Capper. He was burned in 1542, during Henry VIII’s reign, possibly for challenging the idea that God was really present in the Mass.