Rees John of Cefn Llwyd

posted in: Family | 0

Some more of our family history has turned up in the papers of my late cousin David Morris. My mother’s reminiscences (downloadable at ) described how her family moved from Michaelston-le-Pit to Cefn Llwyd in Michaelston-y-Fedw in 1908, and I noted that I had found her father’s tenancy agreement for the farm in the Kemeys-Tynte estate papers. Well, Rhys John’s copy of the agreement has now surfaced in David’s papers, so here it is.

As a tenant by year, my grandfather had to promise in detail how he would manage the land. One thing that wasn’t specified but that my mother remembered was that he was not allowed to use barbed wire in his fences. After the war, the farm came into the hands of the Morgans of Tredegar Park. They retained the right to humt over my grandfather’s fields and they did not want their horses being injured if they jumped the fences.

The Story of the Fox Inn, Juniper

posted in: Family | 0

(photo (c) Snidge, from

Here are two inventories of the contents of a little public house on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border. The first, dated 1882, is a probate inventory, a very detailed valuation of the contents of the pub and dwelling, made after the death of Thomas Harris, who first established the pub. (This is a scan from a photocopy so not perfect.)

The pub was then taken on by a Mr. K. Wood, and this is a less detailed inventory of the contents which he sold in 1907 to E. Hewlett.

These documents are interesting in themselves as an insight into life in a small farming village. Most of the trade would have been beer for farm workers. However, the 1882 inventory includes, in the tap room, champagne glasses, a tea service and plates for meals. Mr. Harris was also running a shop, but the shop stock seems to have been run down, possibly during his last illness or after his death. There was no shop by 1907; instead, the pub now boasted a parlour as well as the tap room. The list of utensils included nip glasses and port glasses, presumably for the parlour customers, as well as ginger beer glasses – were these for children, or for ladies on a hot day?

But the other interesting thing about these documents is that the Fox Inn has a place in one of the best-loved accounts of village life in late Victorian and Edwardian England. Juniper Hill is the real-life original of Lark Rise, of the ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ series of autobiographical novels by Flora Thompson. In those novels, the Fox is renamed the Waggon and Horses, and has a whole chapter in the book. ‘There the adult male population gathered every evening, to sip its half-pints, drop by drop, to make them last, and to discuss local events, wrangle over politics or farming methods, or to sing a few songs “to oblige” ‘. Flora Thompson also mentions the shop, selling candles, treacle and cheese.

These documents were among the papers of my oldest cousin David, who died last winter. He was much older than me, really of the same generation as my mother. David’s mother was born in 1900, the oldest of the family. My mother was the youngest, born in 1915, and David was born in 1926. Times were hard then, and David and his mother spent a lot of their time at my grandparents’ farm, where there was at least enough food to eat.

After military service, David took a degree in Agriculture. He thought for a while of moving overseas, and his papers included a letter offering him a post as a tea planting assistant with the Darjeeling Company.

David Morris Tea

In spite of the tempting offer they made him – a bungalow with three servants and the possibility of promoton to the dizzy heights of Assistant Manager with six servants – he was eventually persuaded to stay in England. He became a Rural Science teacher. He married Jean, grand-daughter of the Mr. Hewlett who took over the Fox in 1907. It had been run by her family ever since, and she and David ran it together while he taught and they brought up their five children. Eventually, though, they had to retire. No-one was prepared to take the pub over as a going concern and it is now a private house.


St Michael’s, Lower Machen

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The church of St Michael and All Angels, Lower Machen, is the old parish church for the whole of the Machen area. Among its treasures are the monuments and funeral hatchments of several generations of the great Morgan family of Tredegar Park. This summer, the Church is open to visitors every Sunday until the 24th of September from 2.00 until 5.00. The author of the church guide book will be there on the 31st of July & 28th of August and will happily do personalised guided tours. If you prefer, bring a smartphone to access our digital experience. The church also has children’s packs so they can find interesting things in the church.

For more information visit



The Parish Trust  needs your help.

In these difficult times, the services of the Parish Trust are in demand more than ever as people wrestle with ever-increasing prices. Charities too are facing increasing costs and at the same time, their income from public funds and private donations is diminishing. This is certainly our recent experience at the Parish Trust and in time will affect our ability to support the vulnerable in our society.

During the lockdown, Wayne Barnett wrote two booklets about the church, The ‘Remarkable’ Morgan Chapel at Lower Machen Church and The Morgan Family Hatchments at Lower Machen Church (Parish of Machen, 2021). Pbk, 43 and and 27 pp., fully illustrated in colour. Available from the parish,, in return for donations to the Parish Trust CARE project, which provides social support and parcels of essential goods. The parish suggests a minimum of £5 for the Hatchments book and £6 for the Morgan Chapel or £10 for the set, plus £3 for p&p.

If you would like copies or already have copies and would like to make a donation please visit

If you are able please use the HMRC Gift Aid scheme to make your donation worth 25% more to the charity.

To whet your appetite for a visit, here’s a sample of the monuments and a hatchment:

More on portable/movable fonts

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A couple of additions to the post on small fonts at The Penrhys font is about 9 kg in weight – I would describe it as movable but not really portable.

We had a very fruitful discussion on the medieval-religion Jiscmail discussion group. Several people posted links to photos of similar patterns on late medieval fonts so we are back to the possibility that the Penrhys find was late medieval. This honestly makes more sense, both of its very battered condition and of the place where it was found. But the jury, as they say, is still out. You can access the discussion even if you aren’t a list member – go to and put portable fonts as your search term.

Another example has cropped up on Twitter – is a cream terracotta miniature font from the South Western Potteries catalogue ‘This font is intended to be placed on the table of Churches Chapels or elsewhere when required for use. It is really about 9 inches in height’ .

Several more examples (without sizes or much in the way of background, but some lovely photos) at .

Portable fonts

posted in: Archaeology | 2

I have to admit that, before I went down this particular research wormhole, I hadn’t thought much about portable fonts. I knew about the Reformation debates about fonts and baptism, and the move away from chunky stone fonts near the church door to plain basins in full view of the congregation. But being more of a medievalist, I had assumed that ‘traditional stone font’ meant something hefty and virtually immovable.

Then I was sent photos of this (photos are © Peter Brooks)

looking for all the world like a traditional stone font but only about twelve inches high. It was found about fifty years ago at Penrhys in the Rhondda, during the building of the housing estate there. When found, it was broken in two, and the finders repaired it with cement and a metal pin. Before the estate was built, the hillside was home to a couple of small farms – but during the later Middle Ages it had been one of the holiest places in Wales. A famous carving of the Virgin and Child, believed to have arrived there by a miracle, made it a focus for pilgrimage, and the Welsh poets wrote in its praise.

Quite by coincidence, at about the same time, this popped up on Twitter –

And a reference to a blog post – scroll down for a photo of the same miniature font

And a lengthy discussion on Twitter – follow the threads from the original posting. People recalled baptisms using the Waltham miniature font and posted a photo of a completely different design which (according to family tradition) could have come from the Holy Land.

Penrhys was a grange chapel of the Cistercian monks of Llantarnam. The land should initially have been farmed by lay brothers of the order, but we know the grange had tenants by the early 14th century. Technically, I suppose, they should have gone to the parish church in Llanwynno for things like baptisms – Llanwynno is 2.75 km from Penrhys as the crow flies, but across a steep-sided valley. Cistercian chapels for tenants do seem to have had facilities for baptisms: the abbey church at Margam, for instance, has three medieval fonts, all presumably from outlying chapelries. They are all full size, and one would expect a permanent font in a grange chapel to be full size, but there could have been small portable fonts for emergency baptisms in remote farmsteads.

Somehow, though, although the miniature font was battered and worn, it did not look medieval. It has been taken to the National Museum in Cardiff and both the small finds officer and the Head of Collections and Research (History and Archaeology thought ‘maybe Victorian’. The Twitter discussion included a link to this – which as it’s china is presumably Victorian.

My first instinct was to think Catholic, or maybe High Anglican – that Victorian revival of ritualism and focus on the sacraments. However, a response to the original Twitter posting said that miniature fonts were common in Nonconformist chapels. Further enquiry suggested they are still used in the Methodist tradition. I am planning to seek out a few examples of these.

However, it is possible that the Penrhys find had no liturgical use. The team at the Baptisteria Sacra project pointed to the difficulties of taking baptism in a miniature font. Would it not be better to have closed weatherproof containers for consecrated water, salt and oil? They also sent me these photos

– a rough earthenware replica font, 7” tall, quite elaborate in design and lavishly decorated. The base reads ‘Font in West Deeping Church Linc. Published by T I WHITE LONDON 1831’. This would not have been much use as a water container and seems to have been produced commercially as an ornament.

The Penrhys font, though, is stone and could have held water. But wherever it came from, whenever it was made, and whatever it was used for, how did it end up broken on a remote Welsh hillside?

Grandparenting 2021

posted in: Family | 0

Seth has had a busy year in spite of lockdowns and restrictions. He likes being out in all weathers – snow

rain …

exploring the stream – in all weathers

watching the trains with his best friend Nell the spaniel

with Arwen on the slide

and doing a jigsaw with Grandad

We couldn’t have a birthday party but we went to the Museum at St Fagans and the custodian very sweetly let Seth sit on the prince’s throne at Llys Rhosyr. The young prince ponders the burdens of state …

Here are Rachel and Sean with Seth –

and here is little Ethan Wolfendale, who weighed in at 7lb 14 oz on 9 December

mind you, he did pull a dreadful face when he found he had to share a birthday with Boris Johnson’s latest

this is what is known in ouir family as an Aunty Olwen face, after a rather formidable great-aunt of mine.

But we consoled him by reminding him that he also shares a birthday with John Milton, Judi Dench, Jean-Claude Juncker and Rachel’s great hero Rear-Admiral Grace Hopper the computer pioneer.

So all’s well.

Llanthony – a thin place

I was supposed to be going to Capel-y-ffin, just north of Llanthony, back last January to make a radio programme about Thin Places – then the lockdown struck. We decided to have another go on Tuesday. In folklore (and in some pre-Christian traditions), thin places are literal doors to the Other World. Stories of shepherds who walk into a stone circle or a cave, find themselves in the land of the fairies, dance with them all night, fall asleep, and when they wake up they find that a hundred years have passed and everyone they knew is dead …

In the Christian tradition, it’s a bit different – they are places where you are particularly aware of the presence of God and the nearness of the Other. But are they inherently like that, or are they created by the prayers of the faithful – what T. S. Eliot called places ‘where prayer has been valid’? Llanthony is a bit of both. The legend is that the medieval priory was founded by a young knight of the local de Lacy family. Out hunting, he became separated from his companions and got to a little ruined hermitage. He was told it was where St David had gone in retreat. He became a hermit there, and attracted so many followers that his hermitage developed nto a community of Augustinian canons.

So did the place speak to him, or did he realise it was holy when he found about St David? And was St David ever really there? And are thin places always quiet, remote retreats? For me, the ultimate thin place is Penrhys – which is a busy and sometimes troubled housing estate on the site of a medieval shrine to the Virgin Mary. The estate church is a centre of prayer and social activism, somewhere the Gospel is really being lived – but it isn’t everyone’s idea of a spiritual refuge.

We stopped off on the way to Capel-y-Ffin at Llanthony Abbey. As well as the abbey ruins, the parish church was made out of the abbey infirmary. It has some splendid painted wall memorials – none by the famous Brute family of stonemasons but plenty to admire. Bob Silvester’s article in the current Church Monuments  is a really good study of these local stonemasons My photos aren’t brilliant because I only had my phone and it was very dark, but they give you an idea.

The Trumper monument

commemorates several generations of the family. There’s a particularly good angel at the top, with the trumpet of the Last Judgement (a pun, maybe?) standing on some very fluffy clouds.

Next to this, the monument to William and Sarah Jones

has two urns at the top and a sort of bathtub with the text ‘The just shall live by faith’.

There’s an intriguing difference in the lines under their names. His reads

Time swiftly flies, and calls away
Our spirits to their home;
Our bodies mingle with the clay
And rest beneath the stone.

Resignation, and the earthly fate of the body.

Hers by contrast reads

Strong was her faith in him
who died to save
And bright her hope of joy
beyond the grave.

more of a sense of religious belief. I’ve seen the same difference between men’s and women’s inscriptions elsewhere but I’m not sure if it’s a real gendered difference.

I couldn’t get a good picture of the one above

but it commemorates an earlier William Jones with the lines ‘Remember man that die thou must, and after death return to dust’ and ‘The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’

Next to this is a monument to Mary Davis and her husband Roger Davis, perpetual curate of the parish

with a trumpet-wielding cherub at the top and the lines ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!’ – very appropriate for a cleric.

The Lewis monument

is particularly colourful, and has something of a gendered difference in the poems. His is

Behold o mortal man
How swift thy moments fly
Thy life is but a span
Prepare thyself to die.


Hers is

Extend to me thy favour, Lord,
Thou to thy chosen dost afford.
When thoui returnst to set them free
Let thy salvation visit me.

Sorting out the Joneses was tricky, but this one came from the neighbouring parish of Craswall, across the Hatterall ridge and in the next county and diocese.

An urn sitting on a bath tub (technically they are called ‘wine coolers’) this time, with the words ‘Memento mori’. Underneath is the verse

The soul prepared made no delay,
The summons comes, the saints obey;
The flesh rests here till Jesus comes
To claim the treasures from the tombs.

Really difficult to photograph, this one, on the east side of the chancel arch

Mary and William Parry of Nantycarne, a farm tucked into the hillside just north of the abbey. Both have Bible quotes. His is from the Book of Revelation: ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. Yea, saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labours.’ Hers is really unusual, lines from chapter 7 of the Book of Job. ‘The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more. His eyes are upon me and I am not. As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.’

What can have led Mary (or her family) to those strangely disturbing lines? Extracts from the Book of Job feature heavily in the medieval Office of the Dead, the night prayers said after a death and before the funeral. But that would have been in Latin, and those particular verses only appear in a couple of unusual variants of the liturgy.

The other interesting thing is that the wording isn’t exactly that of the Authorised Version, which is  ‘…thine eyes are upon me and I am not’. It does sound as though the wording was given from memory, suggesting it was a text known well but not quite well enough.

But the real excitement was this

half hidden in the south-west corner. How many times have I been to the church and failed to spot it – how many groups of students have I taken there – I’ve been there with the Stone Forum, with the Church Monuments Society –

and there it was, hiding in plain sight, a medieval cross slab, trimmed on a slight slant, repurposed at least once with a later inscription.

The detail of the head

suggests a late date, probably fifteenth century. The base

has a fleur-de-lys decoration rather than a stepped base which makes me think it’s 15th rather than early 16th. And the inscription –

two family tragedies. Frederick Gwillim, Died 1 Decr 1822 aged 11 months, and Ann Gwillim, Died 18 October 1828 aged 6 months. How did they bear it.

Probably the stone came from the abbey – possibly the grave of a leading member of the community, possibly a lay person who had been generous to them. Who knows.

Llanthony was a bit disconcerting, being full of young army recruits, all spick and span in their new camouflage gear and 20 kilo overnight packs, off on an exercise in the mountains. The road to Capel y Ffin was nearly blocked by a landslide but Steve managed to get through. And the recording went well. They didn’t really want a lot of detail, and it was good to see the little church again.

Reeves and dunghills

This is real hardcore lost farmsteads – this

is all that is left of a farm called Maerdy. It appears on the tithe plan as Mardy Du, and in 1840 it was being farmed along with a larger farm, Gwern y Domen. It belonged to the Plymouth estate and the tenant was an Edmund Morgan (I think he has cropped up elsewhere – was he sub-letting?). It’s on the 1900 OS map as Maerdy cottages, so it seems to have gone down in the world, and it’s possible that the outbuilding marked on the tithe plan has become a cottage. There is still something marked on the 1:25.000 OS map at ST 17007 87450 but it’s hard to locate on the ground. The track down from Gwern-y-domen Farm to the railway line doesn’t follow the line of the right of way, the woods have expanded since the aerial photo was taken … but this is my best guess.



We tried to find the well, which is a little further up the slope. The stream clearly flows from it


but the brambles defeated even Nell.


This is all a pity, as Maerdy would have been one of the most important farms in the area in the middle ages. Under Welsh law, the maer was the royal official in each commote, responsible for cultivating the king’s land and supervising the serfs (somewhat like a reeve in England). He also presided over the local court. As the Norman marcher lords took over from local Welsh rulers, they took over the organizational structure of the commotes, so the office of maer continued into the later medieval period.

But there was another maer in each commote, the maer y biswail (literally the dung-reeve) who was responsible for the lord’s cattle and could have day-to-day responsibility for farming as well. In The Welsh King and his Court, Glanville Jones pointed out that most places called maerdy were actually the homes of dung-reeves. So our farm may have been the home of a practical farm supervisor rather than a court official.

In a comment on my blog post on Parc y Fan at, John Owen suggested that the name might indicate the home farm for the centre of a multiple estate, possibly based on a building near the site of the Van Mansion. The various surveys of the De Clare estates mention Rudry, Hendrenny and Castell Coch as separate units, possibly manors? This he thinks may be the frozen remains of a multiple estate. Multiple estates were large land holdings organized so that they included all the necessary resources – good arable land, meadow, pasture, woodland, marsh land, rough mountain etc.

Or is there some connection with Gwern y Domen? The actual tomen is a castle mound a little to the north-east of Maerdy, with its bailey cut across by the disused railway line. Could this have been the local stronghold with Maerdy as the administrative headquarters? The problem is that we have little or no documentation and the archaeology has been messed up by industrial development and later housing.

But we do still have records of farms like Maerdy, Parc y Fan, Treboeth and the Warren to enable us to start reconstructing the old farming landscape.

Picturesque tourism and industry: some links

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These are links to the online texts that I’m using in my lecture to the Oxford House Industrial Archaeological Society

Richard Warner, A Walk Through Wales (p. 232)

The anonymous ‘Northern Tour, or, Poetical epistles’ is at (p. 446)

Wigstead, Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales (p. 57)

Edward Donovan, Descriptive Excursions through South Wales … (starts at p. 49)

  1. W. Manby, An Historic and Picturesque Guide from Clifton … (starts at p. 183)

The Rev. S. Shaw, A Tour to the West of England, in 1788 … is in John Pinkerton’s A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels … (quote on p. 224)


posted in: Family | 2

Grandparenting in a time of Covid

Seth’s first full year has been a very strange one. From restaurant meals

and church play group

to lockdown – videochats

working from home

and a WhatsApp birthday.

But there was still fun – paddling pool in the garden

socially distanced visit in our garden

the wonderful world of books

and when we got back together as a household bubble, I introduced him to the joys of graveyards

what was he listening to?

plus the joys of leaves

and puddles.

And here he is in his Christmas jumper.