Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Squeezing the Orange

Back in the 1890s Alexander Richardson Binnie, the chief engineer at London County Council, had big plans for Radnorshire and Breconshire.  He intended to construct a series of reservoirs which would pipe water to the thirsty multitudes of the Great Wen.  In addition to drowning communities such as Llangammarch, Garth, Cregrina, Llanbister and Abbeycwmhir, the plan also envisaged the clearance of the population from the surrounding water catchment areas - these would be left to the sheep.

Some 18% of the acreage of Radnorshire would be commandeered by London and an incredible 58% of Breconshire - some 488 square miles in total.  With Birmingham and Liverpool also vying for Welsh water it was little wonder that the country was described by Swansea's Liberal MP Sir Henry Vivian as "a carcass which is to be divided between them according to their own needs and wishes."

Binnie's proposals, he had first noted the suitability of the valleys while building railways in the 1860s, was strongly supported by Sidney Webb and the Fabian backed Progressives who controlled London County Council.  By the end of the decade a less ambitious plan, supported by Welsh MPs from DLG to Mabon, would have seen the damming of just the Upper Wye and the Irfon.  This, too, fell by the wayside due to the opposition of the Tories, no doubt mindful of the interests of London's existing private water supply companies.

Although Binnie died in 1917 it's interesting to learn that the company that he founded designed Llyn Brianne in the 1970s ( see note below). Could his plans be dusted down again at some future date?  Surely no supporter of the one nation agenda could object to sacrificing our countryside to the greater good of the United Kingdom's most important city.  Indeed a British patriot should be flushed with pride at the very thought.

Note:  According to this page Brianne is not a local placename.  It is a near anagram of A R Binnie though.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Forgotten Radnorian

Live long enough and perhaps you'll achieve a whit of fame.  This is what happened to Evan Edwards of Torquay, described in the Edwardian press as the oldest Baptist minister in the world.  Born in Nantmel in February 1815, Edwards died just a few weeks before his 100th birthday in January 1914.  At the time of his death he had been a Baptist minister in Somerset and Devon for more than 80 years and was one of  the last witnesses to the preaching of such men as John Elias and Christmas Evans.

I'm more interested in his brief comment about the Nantmel of his youth and Dolau Baptist chapel:

"Cymraeg oedd iaith addoliad yn y capel ac yr aelwyd foreu a hwyr, ond ymledai y Saesneg i Faesyfed a mwy cyfarwydd oedd y plant yn y Saesneg"

"Welsh was the language of worship in the chapel and at home morn and night, but English had spread to Radnorshire and the children were more familiar with English."

Now this confirms that Ffransis Payne had the right idea when he wrote that Dolau Chapel turned to English around 1840.  It also shows how unreliable - in Radnorshire at least - it is to rely on the language of Anglican church services to estimate the date of language shift.  Nantmel parish church turned to English in 1755* and this very large parish (8 miles by 5) is consequently shown as thoroughly English on the published maps that illustrate language shift in Wales. Before the 1891 census such maps are mostly based on Anglican services.  I tend to think the dropping of Welsh services in the churches marked the disappearance of the last generation of monoglots rather than the demise of all local Welsh speakers as the maps assume.

Evan Edwards' family lived on the eastern side of the parish and it's a pity that no-one thought to ask him in greater detail about the linguistic ins-and-outs of his youth. The 19C Welsh language press was too busy trumpeting what a thoroughly pagan, immoral and stupid lot the Radnorians were to bother over-much about reporting on their recent history.  Even the Western Mail joined in the fun saying that the county's inhabitants lived in an "intellectual twilight, so inactive that a game of football would be a godsend to them."

* Nantmel is said to have had a monthly Welsh language service until 1807 but this has escaped the attention of the mappers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Welsh Newspapers Online

Readers of the last couple of posts will guess that Radnorian has discovered the National Library's brilliant new resource, see here.

Nothing in the Papers

It was a summer evening in 1895 when a Cockney tramp, one Charles Rogers, stepped out of a Rhayader hostelry wondering where he would spend the night.  The town's police officers - James Niblett and Thomas Lloyd had recently joined the Radnorshire force from the Shropshire Constabulary, while Arthur Thomas had only been a policeman for a few weeks - were sure that Rogers should not be allowed to disturb the peace of the town.

Two uniformed figures were seen following Rogers as he wandered off in the direction of Builth and a few minutes later shouts and the sound of a beating could be heard.  The next morning Hugh Mason, a postman, discovered the tramp, lying in a pool of blood by the roadside.  Rogers was carried to the nearby workhouse where his condition was described as critical, his back covered in welts, much bruising and suspicions of severe internal injuries.

All very depressing but ........  a few days later the three officers were up before the magistrates.  Lloyd had witnesses who put him in Cwm Elan at the time of the attack but Niblett and Thomas were bailed to the next assizes in Presteigne.  Half a dozen townsfolk had no hesitation in standing up to give evidence against the pair, the jury returned guilty verdicts and Niblett and Thomas received nine months hard labour for the beating administered to the, by then, recovered tramp.

You won't find any mention of this event in Inspector Maddox's History of the Radnorshire Constabulary but then the popular inspector also failed to cover the forced resignation* of the Chief Constable Elystan Lloyd a couple of years later, surely the most momentous event in the history of the county force. Organisations like to keep their dirty washing firmly out of sight, even if, in the Inspector's case, it was some 60 years or more after the event!  How pleased such institutions and their servants must be with the Leveson proposals and how puzzled the commoners of the 1890s would have been with the pathetic clamour to muzzle the press.

* The Home Office refused to hand over the county's £800 policing grant  until the Chief Constable was replaced.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An Anti-Irish Riot in Radnorshire

We're aware of the sometimes violent antagonism between Irish and Welsh workers in 19C  South Wales and even Pennsylvania; but in early May 1863, during the construction of the Mid-Wales railway line, Radnorshire, too, had its very own anti-Irish riot.

The trouble seems to have started at Marteg Bridge with rumours of workers being laid off in favour of the Irish.  A demand was put to the contractors, Watson & Co, insisting that all Irishmen be gone within 24 hours.   This led to fighting between the two groups and the out-numbered Hibernians were soon fleeing in all directions.  Some reached safety in Llanidloes while others were caught and savagely beaten in St Harmon, where one man lost an eye.

The workers marched, some 200 or 300 strong, down the track into Rhayader where they proceeded to drive the Irish from their lodgings. Soon a crowd - the press claimed it was a thousand strong - had assembled in the town.  A Scotsman, mistaken for an Irishman, received a beating, as did a native of Somerset who had refused to answer the mob's queries as to his nationality.  A handful of locals did try to protect the Irish from the depredations of the crowd.  A Mrs Lloyd, who reporters waggishly dubbed the heroine of Cwmteuddwr, set about the rioters with a poker as they sought to eject a lodger from her dwelling. 

The three days of rioting - the local police had decided that intervention was impossible -  culminated with the mob driving the Irish before them into Newbridge where the village was searched.  The rioters finally ending their pursuit at Pontarithon on the Builth road. 

A local clergyman said that the riot had began inside a beer barrel, although the Irish practise of working at below the usual rate for the job seems to have been at the root of the unpleasantness.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Musical Interlude - songs of the defeated

Anyone who has read Bruce Chatwin's book will know about the Boers of Patagonia.  There's something about the ends of the earth which must appeal to defeated peoples, although the Confederates only made it as far as Brazil.

Time was when the Boers were seen as rather heroic by those who opposed British imperialism. The 1900 General Election in Radnorshire saw the Unionist's seeking to exploit the pro-Boer sympathies of  the Liberal candidate Frank Edwards.  It didn't do him any harm as he won back the seat, provoking a near riot in Llandrindod's Middleton Street with the Union Jack being burnt by Edwards' supporters after he was attacked by the Unionists.  Perhaps the town's Victorian Festival could stage a re-enactment?

The Unionist Radnorshire Standard put Edwards' victory down to pro-Boer sentiment and suggested that the local Radicals invite Paul Kruger over to celebrate.  Back in Parliament Frank Edwards campaigned  for an inquiry into the British concentration camps in which 26000 Boer women and children had died during the war.

Of course Welsh sympathy for the Boers disappeared during the apartheid era, although it's now 21 years since the Afrikaners voted to end that racist system and chose to become just another minority ethnic group in a state they had created.  I doubt if there's much sympathy for the on-going Boer travails amongst the London chatterati and their Welsh followers.  After all, these stubborn, rural dwelling Calvinists with their obscure language are just the sort of folk that stand in the way of the cultural hegemony the elite crave.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spot the Difference - Wales and Tibet

I was reading a blog post about North Korea from the Mail on Sunday's Peter Hitchens.  All very interesting but what struck me was this snippet:

"That dead end, at present, leads only to Chinese domination, a fate which might well suit the rest of the world, but which North Koreans themselves greatly dread. As the Tibetans and the Uighurs know (in Tibet and Chinese Turkestan), Chinese domination means the end of national culture, probably the population of the national territory with Han Chinese until the Koreans become a minority in their own country. This is the form which modern Chinese imperialism takes, and I am always amazed that people who get hoity-toity about the wicked past of British imperialism are so uninterested in this development."

Now that comment is factually correct but isn't it also applicable to Wales?  Out of 27 Radnorshire communities, 16 have a majority which, according to the 2011 census, does not identify itself as Welsh.  This isn't because the locals don't see themselves as Welsh, far from it,  it is obvious that the vast majority chose a Welsh-only identity,  Like Tibet it is because of a government supported in-migration.  In Powys as a whole 49.8% of the population refused to acknowledge any Welsh identity, even though they live in Wales. The position isn't much better further west with 47% of the population of Ceredigion and 35% in Gwynedd also rejecting any Welsh identity, even though the census allowed multiple identity choices.

It seems to me that there are only three reactions to these figures.  Firstly you can deny that the Welsh have a separate identity; secondly you can say that it's progress and that the disappearance of small nations like the Welsh or the Tibetans is a jolly good thing; or lastly you can demand that Wales should control its own borders, which in reality means independence from both London and Brussels.

Of course there is a fourth choice, which no doubt most of us will take ¯\(°_°)/¯

A Radnorshire Casualty of the Falklands War

Hansard 14th June 1982:

Mr Eric Ogden, Liverpool,  West Darby:   Is the Minister aware that the Falkland Islanders who have been so tragically killed or injured are personally known to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and myself and that we are proud to call them our friends? Mrs. Doreen Bonner was a fine and courageous lady. She was a third generation kelper, who was much respected and will be missed by everyone who knew her. Mrs. Susan Whitley was a lovely and lively lady of good Welsh parentage, newly married to an excellent young husband. She was a teacher who was dedicated to the children and other people of the islands.

Susan Whitley was killed by a missile, probably fired by HMS Avenger, during the final assault on Port Stanley.  Like her husband - the islands' vet who had spent the occupation cutting Argentinian communication wires with his gelding tool and was subsequently awarded the MBE - Susan seems to have taken a defiant stance towards the invasion, reportedly refusing to dive for cover during the shelling.

Older Radnorians will remember Susan by her maiden surname of Giles and that she was born in Llandrindod and educated at the town's Grammar school.  Hardly forgotten, either in Llandrindod or the Falklands where she was a home economics teacher at the islands' Senior School,  charitable trust was set up in her name and an annual arts and crafts exhibition for Falklands schoolchildren continues to be held in her memory.

Susan Whitely is buried on Sea Lion Island, the most southerly inhabited island in the Falklands.