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

Chwyldro! Chartist events this autumn

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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.


Knowing where you live

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It is just a bit disconcerting to realise that you can live somewhere for getting on for 40 years and not know everything about it. First there was the little house in the big woods: walking through the top of Castell Coch woods above my house in Tongwynlais, at just the right time of year, I realised that this

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was not upcast from an iron mine but the remains of an old cottage, built long-house style on a platform dug into the slope. Once you know it’s there you recognise it even when it’s covered with a deep carpet of wild garlic.

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Then it was the slope between the castle and the mini golf course. From the castle it looks as though the ground simply falls away steeply through the trees. But walking along the path above the golf course I realised there was something on the other side. Scramble up the bank, down the precipitous slope on the other side and you find this –

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a deep cutting running for several hundred yards

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terminating in a cliff face

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then above it a smaller cutting running up to the castle.

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I knew all about the quarrying that created the dramatic cliffs below the castle to the west. According to some correspondence in the Bute estate archives, an agent from Dowlais travelling to Cardiff in the early nineteenth century noticed that blasting in the quarry below the castle was shaking the ruins to their foundations. He contacted the Marquess of Bute who ordered the quarrymen to stop. But no-one seems to have recorded anything about quarrying on the other side of the castle. Was it digging for stone – or was it more digging for iron?

Back to the maps …

The Cross of Destiny

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Sometimes it’s the things that everyone knows that turn out to be the most puzzling – and also the most illuminating. A couple of years ago we had an interesting discussion on the medieval-religion Jiscmail list (http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/medieval-religion) about the Croes Naid, the fragment of the True Cross which was the most valued part of the regalia of the Welsh kings of Gwynedd. The name has been variously translated as the Cross of Destiny or the Cross of Refuge (by the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Wales’s equivalent of the OED: see http://anglonormandictionary.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/word-of-month-croes-naid.html and http://www.welsh-dictionary.ac.uk/ ). Seized by Edward I after his defeat of Llywelyn and Dafydd ap Gruffydd, it ended up in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where a carved boss still depicts its reliquary. But its journey there was anything but simple.

For Christmas my lovely husband gave me a book on the graveyards of the City of London (how well he knows me). I want to visit them all. We made a start on a recent visit by taking a line from Bunhill Fields to St Olave Hart Street. On the way we passed St Helen’s Bishopsgate: nice little graveyard, now a garden between high office blocks and in the shadow of the Gherkin.

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People were coming out of the lunch-time Bible study – men in expensive tailoring, students in jeans, lots and lots of people. In we went. The church was still full and buzzing, people eating sandwiches, other tourists wandering around, a couple of meetings in the transept. Eventually a welcomer came up to us, answered a few questions and lent us a copy of the church guide book. (Yes, we did go and buy a copy of our own.) The welcoming strategy was Good – let people look around first, approach them with a welcome, ask a few open-ended questions, decide they were academics, offer some literature, let them get on with it. Then she discovered we were Welsh and introduced us to the minister. He is Welsh. He speaks Welsh. We still get everywhere.

St Helen’s (formerly the nunnery of St Helen) is one of the City of London’s few surviving medieval churches, with a stunning collection of medieval and post-medieval tombs and a remarkable claim in the guide book. We were told that in 1285 Edward I gave the church a cross called Neit which he had ‘found’ in Wales. So if the Croes Naid was in Bishopsgate, what was in Windsor?

Back home, I sent a hopeful email enquiry to the church. I was worried that relics and relic cults could be tricky for evangelical Anglicans but the current and previous building managers got back to me with encouraging speed. The guide book was based on the Survey of London volume – which referenced Edward I’s wardrobe accounts and the Rolls Series edition of his chronicles – then I found my notes from the earlier discussion on medieval-religion with some online articles and a few more references to edited texts. Back to the literature. I’m still happiest if I have some paperwork.

We still don’t know where the Croes was before it was surrendered to Edward I. In Celtic Britain and the Pilgrim Movement (p 100) Griffith Hartwell Jones says it was on Llywelyn’s body when he was killed, but he gives no source for this and the sources he quotes for the hand-over of the Croes don’t say where it was found. Personal reliquaries were common, and it is quite possible that Llywelyn would have wanted this precious relic as near to him as possible: but if he was killed by an English raiding party (and his body was subsequently mutilated and his head taken and placed on Traitor’s Gate in London) how did the relic remain in Welsh hands to be surrendered the following year? Other traditions suggest it was kept by the Cistercian monks of Aberconwy. It was certainly at Conwy that it was handed over to Edward. The Aberconwy community had been moved from Rhedynog-felen, near Clynnog, by Llywelyn’s grandfather Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, who wanted them nearer to his palace at Deganwy. Llywelyn ab Iorwerth himself took the monastic habit at Aberconwy shortly before his death and was buried there.

The Welsh Rolls of Edward I describe the Croes being handed over at Conwy by ‘Einion son of Ynor, Llywelyn, Dafydd, Meilyr, Gronw, Deio and Tegnared’: as a reward they were released from any other royal service. (Rot. Wal. 2 Edw. 1 m. 1; Rymer, Foedera, i, 63). On the other hand … according to the chronicle of William Rishanger, a monk of St Albans (online at https://archive.org/stream/willelmirishange00rish#page/104/mode/2up ), it was Dafydd ap Gruffydd’s secretary who brought the relic to Edward. This was presumably the Hugh ab Ithel who was given a scholarship at Oxford as a reward (Hartwell Jones found this in the royal wardrobe accounts for 1284). The royal warrant recording its surrender stated that the relic had been passed from prince to prince down to the time of Dafydd ap Gruffydd. It looks rather as though the relic had been in safe keeping somewhere, but not necessarily at Conwy, which was in Edward’s hands by the end of 1282. The rulers of Gwynedd had close links with the abbey of Cymmer and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was buried at Cwm-hir. Both are possible candidates.

Dafydd was still alive when the Croes was handed over. In September he suffered the horrific death of a traitor, being hanged, drawn and quartered, the four parts of his body sent to the four quarters of the kingdom and his head placed on the Tower of London. All this rather puts paid to Edward’s claim to have ‘found’ the relic in Wales. This was more than a simple surrender: it was forcible translation of the relic, on a par with Edward’s ‘acquisition’ of the Stone of Scone a few years later.

Edward took the Croes to London in the spring of 1285 and carried it in a great procession to Westminster Abbey on 30 April (Flores Historiarum iii, 63). A few days later, on 4 May, with another great procession, he took it to St Helen’s Bishopsgate and presented it to the community of nuns there (Chronicles of the Reigns of Edw. I and Edw. II (Rolls Series) i pp 93-4). We have no idea why the nuns were the recipients of this stunning piece of royal generosity: it may have seemed appropriate, as the community was dedicated to St Helen, mother of Constantine and finder of the Cross. The first mention of St Helen in connection with the Croes Naid was not until 1354, when Edward III petitioned the Pope for a relaxation of penance for those visiting St George’s Chapel. In the petition he said that the chapel contained a cross brought by St Helen and destined for England. It is possible that this reflects an earlier tradition linking the Croes with Helen: she appears in Welsh legends, including the Dream of Macsen Wledig in the Mabinogion. In his Historia Regum Britanniae Geoffrey of Monmouth had included the story that Helen brought a fragment of the True Cross to Britain, but did not identify it as the Croes Naid.

But Edward’s generosity was a fragile thing, and the Croes did not stay in Bishopsgate. The priory was still being described as thepriory of Holy Cross and St. Helen in 1299 (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol9/pt1/pp1-18#fnn33 ), but by 1296 Edward had reclaimed the relic. That year, he took it on his Scottish campaign, and it was on the Croes that Wishart, bishop of Glasgow, was forced to swear fealty to the king. Edward may initially have intended to ‘borrow’ the Croes, but once it was back in his custody he hung on to it. We can trace its movements round southern and eastern England in the royal wardrobe accounts for 1300 (online at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=C4QPAAAAIAAJ&pg=PR1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false ): at Windsor on 2 Feb (p. 28), at Stratford Langthorne Abbey on 3 April (p. 32), at the Dominican friary at Stamford (Lincs) on 3 May (p. 35) and in the chapel of Wisbech Castle (Cambs) on 19 May (p. 36). On each of these occasions Edward offered money to the Croes and to a thorn from the Crown of Thorns. Was this another relic which had been surrendered to him in Wales, or had he acquired it elsewhere? The Croes went north to the Scottish borders in the autumn of 1300: in September it was at the abbey of Holm Cultram, near the Solway Firth. Edward took it to Scotland again on his final campaign in 1307. After his death it was kept in the Tower of London until Edward III gave it to Windsor.

It is just possible that the Croes was returned to Wales for a while. A story in the collection of miracles of St Thomas Cantilupe describes an incident in Conwy in 1303. (Susan Ridyard and Jeremy Ashbee have just finished a study of the story as part of a larger work on the miracles of St Thomas Cantilupe. Susan Ridyard has kindly sent me the final draft of this fascinating study, with all its circumstantial detail of everyday life and social tension in what was still a garrison town.) A small child fell into the castle ditch and was thought to be dead. According to some of the subsequent depositions a burgess of the town vowed to St Thomas that if the child recovered he would go on pilgrimage to St Thomas’s tomb in Hereford. Immediately the boy recovered. But an alternative version of the same story credited his recovery to the Holy Cross of the church of Conwy ‘for which God very often works miracles in the town’. The Holy Cross of Conwy may have been one of Wales’s many miracle-working rood carvings, though it is surprising that no poetry mentioning it survives. Alternatively, it could be a memory of the Croes Naid, recalling either its time at Aberconwy Abbey or its return to Wales on one of Edward’s visits. The last of those visits, though, was in the spring of 1295 (according to the List & Index Society’s Itinerary of Edward I). By 1303 the Croes was back in England. It is still possible, though, that what Conwy had was a contact relic, possibly something that had housed the Croes and still retained some of its power.

The Scots have managed to get the Stone of Scone back but the Croes Naid was almost certainly destroyed during the reign of Edward VI. Does it matter? Should the Welsh still feel sore that a scrap of wood was taken from Conwy when we lost so much else as well? Supposing it turned up at Windsor … or supposing we found the famous statue of the Virgin Mary, hidden at Penrhys … or the bones of St David … what would it mean to us now?

Medieval Trelech

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In the summer of 2003 the Gwent County History Association went to Trelech to look at Ray Howell’s excavations there. The late great Mike Anthony spoke very convincingly on his ideas on the layout of the medieval borough and subsequently sent us an outline of his theories – click on the link below for his article.

I have a cunning plan, my lord

Mike’s death in 2010, at a tragically early age, deprived Welsh medieval archaeology of one of its most enthusiastic advocates. Mike worked as a librarian before coming to what was then the Gwent College of Higher Education in 1994 to study for the MA in Celto-Roman Studies. He went on to do an M. Phil. on medieval Welsh ceramics and worked for some years as a freelance archaeologist. He was then appointed by the Council of British Archaeology to supervise planning consents for listed buildings in Wales. Tragically, he was then diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He dealt with his illness by ignoring it when he could and working round it when he had to. With the aid of a squad of volunteers, the help of his wife Fay and the wholehearted support and assistance of the CBA he continued working until very near his death.

Though not religious, Mike was fascinated by the history of religious belief and church archaeology. We worked together on one of his later projects, an online database and survey of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. I have carried on the project: it’s somehow fitting that a survey of tomb carvings should have become a memorial to him.

Grosmont: borough and village street

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We had some epic days out with the Gwent County History Association. In 2004 a day school on the history of Grosmont was followed by a tour of the ‘village’ . Grosmont should probably be called a village now, but it was until the nineteenth century a fully-fledged borough with a mayor and a market hall. It was one of the boroughs of the Marcher lordship of the Three Castles, between Monmouth and Abergavenny. Grosmont Castle was the one that the lords used as a residence –  mainly as a hunting lodge – and the first Duke of Leicester was called Henry of Grosmont because he was born there in about 1310. The town has a suitably large and impressive church with some fascinating tomb carvings – more on those again.

Here are the notes which local historian Philip Morgan, who guided us round the town, sent us afterwards for the Newsletter

Grosmont Borough and the Village Street

The Abergavenny Pax

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More from the newsletter archive of the Gwent County History Association.

An insight into medieval piety

Since this was written, the Abergavenny Pax and the Kemeys Inferior crucifix have been moved to our National History Museum at St Fagans. The Kemeys crucifix was the inspiration for the newly carved crucifix in St Teilo’s Church at the National History Museum.

As part of the Experience of Worship project (http://www.experienceofworship.org.uk/) a lot of liturgical artefacts were commissioned, including a rather simpler version of the pax. We used this in the two iterations of the Mass that we did as part of the project. Those of us who were part of the congregation were encouraged to work on roles that we could play. I spent some time as a rather obstreporous pilgrim, then moved on to be a servant in the big house. One of the singers from the afternoon services was in the congregation for Mass and decided to cast himself as a bedesman who had been influenced by Reformed thinking. As a result he didn’t actually kiss the pax when it was offered to him. I decided to take him up on this and (in role as a trusted old servant of the lady of the manor) said I’d seen him just pretending to kiss it. He admitted that he’d had three seconds of absolute panic thinking he was going to be hauled before the courts and accused of heresy, before he realised it was only play-acting.

We all learned a lot from the project – about the dynamics of the medieval congregation, about the mixture of deep devotion and very secular concerns, and about the logistics of medieval worship.

 

Llangwm School

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Continuing with extracts from the newsletter archive of the Gwent County History Association:

Children of the Parish

Gwent historians owe a great deal to the Rev. William Price of Llangwm, the late nineteenth-century clergyman who was responsible for restoring Llangwm Uchaf church and reconstructing its magnificent rood screen. (He seems to have lost the Doom wall painting in the process but hey, no-one’s perfect.) But William Price also did a great deal for the secular life of the community in which he worked – notably by establishing and promoting the first village school. This study of the early years of the school was written by a student at the then University of Wales, Newport, Lisa Drewett, as part of a module on Reading Everyday Lives.

The Politics of the Royal Bed

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… or ‘the politics of The Royal Bed’ – this being the title of Sion Eirian’s English-language adaptation of the Saunders Lewis play Siwan. Yes, it’s a play that puts the female perspective centre stage; yes it’s a good part for a mature woman, yes it’s about medieval Wales, yes Sion Eirian’s translation shares all this with a wider audience. Well worth going to the premiere at Newport’s Riverfront theatre in mid February, or catching it on its Welsh tour.

But. I can’t help feeling it’s a pity that modern drama about the period still focusses on Siwan’s affair with the young Marcher lord William de Breos and its emotional fallout. It’s the same episode that forms the centrepiece of Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters)’s novel The Green Branch and Sharon Kay Penman’s Here be Dragons. There was so much more to Siwan than that. Illegitimate daughter of King John of England, she was married to Llywelyn ab Iorwerth of Wales when she was only 15, as part of a peace treaty. Her knowledge of the framework of power at the English court was invaluable to her husband. She was able to act as his channel of communication first with John and then with her half-brother Henry III, and she was a major power behind the scenes in a crucial period of the struggle for Welsh independence.

It’s a pity to neglect all that in favour of a love affair.