Penybont and District History Group Notes 7th October 2019 Main Topic: The Geological Basis of Local Natural History – Layers of History on Penybont Common Joe Botting

Geraint opened the meeting by welcoming another well attended meeting.

He invited Elizabeth to make a couple of announcements:

On the 18th October Bill Saunders will be giving a talk on behalf of the Radnorshire Society at Crossgates Village Hall – “Saving Burford House” at 8.00 p.m.

Elizabeth then launched an idea for next year. It is the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. She would like to have an event with talks and a visit to the Pales to celebrate this anniversary. It turns out however that nobody from Radnorshire went to America on the Mayflower. Elizabeth was able to tell us that the Radnorshire Quakers did things their own way. They hired a boat from a grocer in Carmarthen and the Grocer took them across the ocean to America! Lloyd Lewis is going to give a talk on the Radnorshire Quakers and their American adventures. Elizabeth is hoping that some of the descendants of these early pioneers might be able to come over for the event.

Derek mentioned that for the 2nd month his Notes were over 30 mb and as a consequence he could not send them out by email. They can be found, with all the Notes going back to when we started in 2012, at: 

Derek then introduced Joe Botting, our speaker, to the group. Joe is not just a Geologist, he is a Palaeontologist, and an Entomologist, (3 ologies for the price of one!). He is one of the people who leads the Transition Town Group in Llandrindod and as part of this he helped in the setting up of the Repair Café, one of the first in the UK. On top of all this he has the audacity to be an excellent Harpist.

Main Topic: The Geological Basis of Local Natural History

Joe explained that he would be looking at geology based on his experience of Penybont Common where you might be lucky enough to see Peregrines, but he would be looking at things that are much, much smaller.

When thinking back is historical terms we often think of the iron age artefacts, Roman Roads, and even Neolithic arrow heads. Joe said that a few had been found on the Common but none of our members had seen any.

Joe then explained that he wanted to take us out of our comfort zones and explore the things from our deep past that impact on the natural world (focusing on insects) we have today. To do this he will have to introduce us to different layers and timescales:

Ecological timescales

  • Modern management (most recent few years)
  • Recent management (decades)

Historical timescales

  • Land use over centuries (chemistry modification, vegetation)

Climatic timescales

  • Recent geology and climate cycles: thousands to tens of thousands of years
  • Landscape and drainage
  • Biogeographic distribution

Geological timescales

  • Geology defining the basic composition of the soils, the nature of the drainage patterns, and what can happen to it in all the stages above…

Geology is about learning a new language – the language of rocks. If you learn the language then you can begin to learn a new history by reading the rocks.

One of the exciting things about the language is that it is most often laid down in layers one on top of the other, each layer taking you back intime. The combination of layers therefore tells a story…

In going back in time about 450 million years this particular area has the advantage that it has not as yet been geologically mapped, and is the last area of Briton that needs to be done. The colours below show what has been done but for us this is virgin countryside.

When we look at the landscape around Penybont and up into the Radnor Forest, this is not an ancient landscape in geological terms, it is only about 20,000 years old. It was created during the last ice age. We need to look much further back.

This landscape could be said to have been made ‘yesterday’. The landscape looked very different in the Jurassic Period around 175 million years ago:

In the Permian Period around 260 million years ago it would have been:

And then in the Devonian Period around 400 Million years ago:

These slides show some of the influences that have led to the kind of landscape we have today. The Devonian period deposited the sandstones and pebble beds of Herefordshire in a land of semi-arid rivers. During the Permian Period the red desert sandstones used in the construction of the Cathedral at Shrewsbury were laid down. And the smooth hills of Mid Wales are the end result of 400 million years of erosion.

It was however in the Ordovician Period, about 460 million years again, that volcanos gave rise to the layers exposed in the Llandegley Rocks. Joe has a particular interest in these rocks and this period, indeed that is what brought him to Llandrindod in the first place. The rocks of Penybont Common were laid down during the following period, the Silurian, named after one of the ancient tribes of Wales (the Silures)—  as, of course, were the Ordovician Rocks.

It is in these rocks that Joe’s palaeontology comes to the fore and the first signs of life on the Common can be found. In the rocks are the fossils of graptolites.

These slides show some of the influences that have led to the kind of landscape we have today. The Devonian period deposited the sandstones and pebble beds of Herefordshire in a land of semi-arid rivers. During the Permian Period the red desert sandstones used in the construction of the Cathedral at Shrewsbury were laid down. And the smooth hills of Mid Wales are the end result of 400 million years of erosion.

Swalla, B.J.; van der Land, J. (2019). Hemichordata World Database. Cephalodiscus nigrescens Lankester, 1905. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at: on 2019-11-02

The pioneering work on this area of study was carried out mainly in Wales and Scotland in the decades around 1900, and they rapidly became a critical tool for dating the sequences of rock in the Ordovician and Silurian periods Joe’s wife Lucy is one of the few remaining specialists on graptolites: handy, when you need to work out the age of the rocks containing them!

If we look at these timescales from the ‘Big Bang’ onwards then the Big Bang happened about 13.8 billion years ago. The Sun is a third-generation star, and our Solar System formed around 4.5 billion years ago. Life had probably evolved by about 4 billion years ago, and most major groups of animals arose around the base of the Cambrian Period—a mere 542 million years ago!

The rocks of Radnorshire saw an early part of the evolution of animals through the Ordovician, Silurian and into the Devonian periods. By about 230 million years ago in the Triassic Period the dinosaurs appeared and the birds we have today are their descendants. Feathers evolved initially for insulation and display before giving rise to flight. The rocks of the Common are Silurian in age, at about 420 million years old: around the time that the first simple land plants were getting established.

Going back to earlier times, and following the evolutionary explosion of the Cambrian Period, the Ordovician Period saw a spectacular diversification of species and ecosystems, including the origin of coral reefs. As we trace the development of ecosystems these are also subject to mass extinction events and large-scale climate changes.

 The map of the world was a very different to the map of today.

Reproduced with permission from (Paleomap Project) – The Ordovician World

In the Silurian Period, most of Britain formed the core of a microcontinent called Avalonia; to the north was the last remnant of the long-lost Iapetus Ocean separating us from Scotland, and to the south the equally-lost Rheic Ocean between Avalonia and most of Europe. Scotland and the north of Ireland by contrast are attached to North America. The impact of this for Penybont Common is:

As Britain moved northwards it moved through a range of climatic zones that would affect the nature of the rocks we see today. Wales and the borders were generally under water and this gave rise to the limestone areas such as around Wenlock. The evidence for these changes is found in the fossils and the rocks. History has been kind with regard to this as the fossils are found in layers that tell us how and when things were happening.

Stuart presented a nice example of part of a nautiloid about 10cms long, dropped outside his house but originally from the Pales! These shelled relatives of squid and octopus would have been swimming in the seas around here and would have been high up in the food chain: quite possibly the top predators. The ancestors of these modern predatory cephalopods were straight-shelled, and conical, and they were generally common in Silurian seas.

Another beastie of the Silurian Period that you should not expect to find many of here is the trilobites. These were abundant in shallow waters, whereas the waters around here were much deeper. Nonetheless, there are some layers that preserve significant numbers of trilobites, and a few have been found on the Common.

The crinoids are wonderful fossils, related to starfish but living on a tall stalk, with feathery arms that filtered the water. The skeletons of these plant-like creatures fell apart rapidly after death, so complete skeletons are extremely rare. These are abundant in the limestone of the Wenlock area, but remains of deeper-water species are also common in this area, especially washed down-slope in thin layers of shelly debris. Some beautiful complete specimens are even known from The Pales and nearby sites.

All these fossils and shells add to the lime content of the rocks, which translates into the soil of an area. The Common has almost no limestone, but enough shelly fossil layers to change the chemistry a little, and prevent it from being an acid heath environment. In shallow seas like at Wenlock, the Silurian Floor had a diversity of beasties and would have looked a bit like this:

The shape of the land then comes into play and the Limestone gets swept down into deeper waters:

What does all this add up to? Well there are fossils to be found, but relatively few. When we were deep in the ocean we were too far from land and reefs. So, while there might be a little limestone the Common is not acidic, does not have peat bogs, but there are certainly not the classic conditions for a chalk grassland-type flower meadow. The soil is clay with poor drainage, on a homogeneous sequence of clay-rich rocks that is several kilometres thick. In contrast, the Llandegley Rocks are composed of complex layers of hard Ordovician volcanic and sedimentary rocks. When the glaciers came along, eroding rocks and depositing a layer of boulder clay, they planed down the Silurian geology into rounded masses. Note the contrast to the jagged lumps of the Ordovician landscape. For the Silurian, this means rapid drainage on slopes (and hence drying), and boggy pools at the bottom. The slopes are just perfect for the many ant hills that are found on the Common slopes.

In understanding the vegetation on the Common we then have to consider the most recent land management. Poor land is used primarily for grazing. There has been little in the way land improvement measures, no drainage, and sheep are allowed to graze widely. This inevitably curtails the wild flowers as they never get a chance to reseed as the sheep do like to browse. This is hardly surprising as when you look at the map below it is easy to spot the Common land by the pale colour of the land which is only suitable for grazing. 

In two surveys on the Common only one species of bee was found, where several White-tailed Bumblebees had managed to find a small cluster of lousewort.

This does not mean the Common is not interesting to explore; it just means we need to focus what we look for. The rushes are wonderful for insects, as are nettles and thistles, and green woodpeckers can regularly be seen on the Common. The gorse also likes these conditions and is a good stable habitat that has been growing for a long period and this is colonised by a number of locally scarce species, including the Gorse Lacebug which is about 3 to 4 mm long.


Close-cropped fine grasses also provide a habitat for a wide range of different species of leafhopper:

This last little beauty, below, that prefers limestone areas is one that Joe recorded as an unusual find in Radnorshire. The other three all appear to be new records for the county!

Also on the Common are areas where the sheep don’t get to, such as steep slopes, and here he has found spider hunting wasps that paralyse and then lay their eggs on the spiders.

Insects are starting to appear in Radnorshire and on the Common that normally live in warmer parts of the UK, such as the ground bug Peritrechus lundii. The previous distribution pattern shows it in warmer places but we now have it here. The appearance of these insects are a clear indication of Climate Change.

Another species now found on the Common is the Slender Grasshopper.

It likes thistles and vetch.

These plants are best found in the boggy areas where the sheep are not keen to enter. Some of the bugs that have been found include:

Some of the Ladybird species have been in steep decline but this little one has been making an appearance on the Common and in Members gardens.

The Hieroglyphic Ladybird, Coccinella hieroglyphica

The Hieroglyphic Ladybird has been in steep decline nationally, but  has been making an appearance in Members’ gardens as well as on the Common

In general, the conditions that suit most of the creatures best are undisturbed environments that have not been ploughed and are a bit untidy. Each species has its own preferences, though, and there are many that depend on undisturbed dead wood. An area of the Common that lends itself this is the old plantation, and this also yielded surprises.

Shake the branches and you may find some other local rarities in the form of certain wood-boring beetles:

The message from Joe was: “Give Nature a Chance”.

In Summary what does all this tell us about the Common:

  • Over 100 insect species from two days of surveying (mediocre)
  • Hardly any bees or hoverflies… because, sheep. Not enough flowers to support them.
  • Very nice fauna on the extensive, feral gorse bushes – long undisturbed.
  • Dry, largely unimproved grassland with remarkable, overlooked leafhopper fauna new to Radnorshire – all feeding on the grasses.
  • Very nice wetland fauna (too wet for the sheep), including scarce ladybirds and bugs (all down to the geology and glacial drift).
  • New incoming species popping up in sheep-free places, whether that’s bogs or woodland.
  • Strange mix of mainly acid grassland species (normal for siltstone), with occasional calcareous grassland species due to the lime-rich layers.

Much more interesting than Joe had expected.

Geraint thanked Joe for his excellent talk and said how prviledged we were in Penybont to have had such a valuable piece of work done on the Common.

Our next meeting will be on Monday 4th November 2019 when Julian Ravest will show more pictures taken by his drone revealing “Medieval Land Cultivation on Penybont Common”. We are gradually building up a complete picture of Penybont through time!

Penybont and District History Group Notes Sept 2019 – Judy Dennison

Geraint welcomed another full-house and reminded members that we need to plan the programme for next year so that he can distribute it at our December meeting.

Geraint made a public declaration of our funding position, as we do not hold any audited accounts. Following an event held in the Village Hall 2 years ago there was a small profit of £102 that is held by Richard Davies on behalf of the group. Geraint has made a payment from this to Derek as he had paid Richard Rees, who spoke on the Dams that did not Happen, a fee, travel expenses, and purchased a booklet, amounting to £40.

Shirley mentioned that there is to be an event in the Village Hall in aid of the League of Friends of the Hospital in Llandrindod in 28th September. Shirley and Annette have tickets, £6, for afternoon tea and some entertainment that includes a theatrical performance.

A very rusty piece of metal was brought in from Bank House to identify. It had the appearance of a small machete, that might still be useable, after a great deal of work, to slow down the New Zealand Rugby Tea,

Sadly, we had a moment or two of silence to remember Billy Davies. Geraint expressed our combined sense of loss to Joy who was present.

Derek mentioned that Gina had brought in a Microfiche machine that had become surplice to requirements at Weobley Historical Society. Our thanks to Gina and the Society for this interesting piece of equipment and the range of slides that have come with it. The machine and slides are on a table in the Gentleman’s Outfitters within the Thomas Shop.

Derek also mentioned that the widow of the Rev. Wilkinson who was visiting the area for a family baptism. Rev. Wilkinson had followed Geraint as Vicar of the Parishes of Llanbadarn Fawr, Llandegley, and Cefnllys. Geraint said that Rev. Wilkinson had been a very popular Vicar. His widow now lives in Swansea near the All Saints Church on the Mumbles, where her husband had also been the Vicar. By a strange piece of fate, the Vicar, Rev Christopher Lee, in the Parish that Derek had lived in prior to coming to Penybont, Tytherington, South Gloucestershire, had also gone to be Vicar at All Saints on the Mumbles. Another very popular Vicar!

Main Topic: Llanbarn Fawr School – Judy Dennison and her elegant assistant, Bob Dennison

Judy explained that she would give some background to the evolution of schools in Radnorshire before going on to talk about the school itself and show a number of photographs that will hopefully bring back some fond memories. Two of the photographs had only just arrived via Facebook from Kent!

Judy started by referring to a very interesting article by Robert Bevan in the Radnorshire Transactions – Radnorshire Schools in 1818.

He refers to the socio-economic situation in Radnorshire in that people were very poor and while families often wanted education the children were needed to work on the land. The impact of the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution meant that many powerful people feared educating the Poor and so investment in education was limited. He describes the situation in 1818 as being ‘sombre’. The Church was largely responsible for such education as did exist and this was probably to ‘golden age of Sunday Schools’.

Things were however beginning to change; the Industrial Revolution was under way and the pressure for education was beginning to grow in the Cities.

Things were however beginning to change; the Industrial Revolution was under way and the pressure for education was beginning to grow in the Cities.

In 1816 Henry Brougham led a Parliamentary Committee in investigating the state of education in London. The worrying results from this investigation led to the Committee carrying a much wider investigation including Radnorshire. They contacted mainly the Church officials in each Parish to make a return. These returns show differing results in our three Parishes.

In Llanbadarn Fawr Rev. Evan Powell’s return stated: “the working classes are very desirous of education, of which they are totally without means; a Sunday School was established, but has been discontinued; and the curate suggests that if a small quantity of instructive books could be procured, much good would arise.”

The Rev. John Jones at Llandrindod, which in 1818 had a population of just 171 souls, and Cefnllys, both had day schools kept at the expense of the parents. Llandrindod had 15 pupils while Cefnllys had 30 pupils.

Llandegley boasted “a school in which 14 pupils are taught free, the Master of whom has £11 per annum left for that purpose and about the same sum for extra scholars”.

By the 1830s the move for social change had gained momentum. The rapid industrialisation took more and more people off the land and into the cities. The working class started to make more demands for better conditions. The Chartists were demanding the Vote. In the rural areas of Mid and South Wales the Rebecca Riots started in 1839 to complain about injustices of the Tolls and Turnpike Roads but they also protested in relation to the social conditions in these very poor rural areas.

In 1846 William Williams MP, a self-made man from Wales, spoke in the House of Commons about the need for a radical change to education policy for Wales. A further enquiry led to the publication of the Blue Books.

Three Barristers from England had conducted the enquiry. They interviewed people from the churches and described the education available to people in Wales as ‘appalling’. In 1846 there were 23,000 people in 49 Parishes with 719 children attending some form of day education in 43 schools when they were not needed on the farms. The total number of children in Radnorshire were 3183. In Llanbadarn Fawr there were 419 people with 11 boys and 4 girls at day schools and 96 registered for dissenting Sunday School, but none in Church Sunday schools.  Just about a quarter of the children in Llanbadarn Fawr were receiving some form of education.

The Blue Books were somewhat controversial, they painted a picture of immoral Wales, particularly in Cardigan and Radnorshire, and they were particularly damning of the Welsh language. Sometimes referred to as the Treachery of the Blue Books:

Blue Book

“The evil of the Welsh Language, as I have stated above, is obviously and fearfully great in Courts of Justice. The evidence given by Mr Hall (No 37) is borne out by every account I have heard on the subject; it distorts the truth, favours fraud, and abets perjury, which is frequently practiced in courts, and escapes detection through the loopholes of interpretation. This public exhibition of successful falsehood has a disastrous effect on the public morals and regard for the truth.”

The 1847 Report stated that:

‘girls..are more imperfectly instructed, if possible, than the boys. The effect is observerable in the gross ignorance of the female peasantry.. especially in Cardiganshire and Radnorshire’

The Rev. Harrison at Builth Wells was more concerned about the immorality of the teachers. He suggested that if you could get no other work, were a drunkard, and could read a bit then you would qualify to be a teacher. The Report said:

No person.. Will doom himself to the worst paid labours and ..least appreciated office to be met with in the country’

It went on to refer to a particular incident:

‘I was obliged to send for a constable to remove a drunken fiddler in the street, and he proved to be the headmaster of Aberedw, and some of the bystanders blamed the constable for doing it. Another came and offered himself to me for a schoolmaster whilst apparently under the influence of liquor’.

 In what was referred to as the Pupil-Teacher System, teachers were recruited from the pupils of the school. They would have had some training as a monitor – an older pupil looking after a class of younger pupils. Training for teachers might not amount to any more than 1½ days each week. Grants to schools for funding were based on the number of pupils and the qualification of the teacher.

It is at this point that our hero of many of our sessions makes an appearance. John Percy Severn was a large donator to the establishing of a school at Llanbadarn Fawr, at what is now the Grange, in 1858.  

The Grange

The Voluntary and National schools of the period were generally managed by the Church as was the case in Llanbadarn Fawr. The first teacher in 1861 was a Mr Trinder but the school proved to be too small and when under the Elementary Education Act of 1870 Board Schools were to be set up in every Parish a new and purpose-built school began to take its place in 1875 with John Percy Severn elected as Chair of the Board. Mr Severn had given the land for the school at Cefnprisky Farm, laid on water and supported the building of the Headmaster’s house. The school opened in 1877.

The 1870 Act expected schools to:

  • That local education boards should inspect schools to ensure there were sufficient places. 
  • That elementary education must be provided for children aged between five and 13.
  • That schools should be publicly funded.
  • That parents had to pay for their children’s education, unless they could not afford to.
  • That attendance should be compulsory.
  • That religious teaching should be non-denominational, and that parents could withdraw their children from religious education.
  • That schools should be regularly inspected to maintain the standard of education

It was the ‘non-denominational’ religious education that proved to be controversial, but it was the compulsory nature of attendance that was left to local discretion. In a rural area like Llanbadarn Fawr the were endless reasons for having a school holiday and John Percy Severn was generous in his interpretation. As well as the usual needs to do with the farm there was the Fairs, the circus, seasonal jobs in Llandrindod, etc.

The system of education as set out within the Act was:

  • From Standard 1 to Standard 6
  • Reading, Writing, Arithmetic
  • Promotion to higher standard by merit

Many children did not complete all the Standards

The school was built by John Speake and Pip Woodcock’s Great Grandfather, Aaron Moseley, Agent for the Castle Vale Estate at Llananno who lived at Criggin, was a signature to the legal Bond in 1877 to have the school built along with Edward Hamer, Lower Esker in the parish of Llanbadarn Fynydd. Pip, who now lives in Canada, sent Judy a transcript of the Bond and mentioned that her Grandfather, Cyril Howard Moseley was born at Brynthomas, Penybont in 1904. He lived there until 1919 but she does not know if he attended Llanbadarn Fawr School. This is an extract from the original Bond and below is the transcript  using the original spelling and punctuation used in the Bond document:

“Know all men by these presents that we John Speake of the parish of Llanbadarnfynydd in the County of Radnor, Builder. Aaron Moseley of the parish of Llananno in the said County, Farmer and Edward Hamer, of Lower Esker in the parish of Llanbadarnfynydd in the said county, farmer, are jointly and severally held and firmly bound to the School Board of Llanbadarn Fawr in the County of Radnor their successors and assigns in the p? sum of one thousand pounds for which payment to the  well and truly made we bind ourselves and each of us and any two of us and our ? each of our heirs executors and administrators and every of them jointly and severally by these presents Sealed with our seals dated the 17th day of April 1877 (then each has signed at bottom of page and witnessed by a John James

Page 2:

And in such case the above written Bond or Obligation shall become void otherwise the same shall remain? In full force and virtue provided always that it shall be lawful for the said Board and their successor from time to time by writing under their seal to extend the time for fulfilment of the terms and conditions of the said contract for such further period or periods as they shall think expedient or to give time for the payment of money by any of the parties hereto And that not withstanding such extension of time or any Rules of Law or Equity to the contrary this security shall remain and be in full force against the said John Speake Aaron Moseley and Edward Hamer and each of their heirs executor and administrators of each of them and shall be capable of being enforced in the same or like manner as if such extended period or periods had been originally inserted therein.

Page 3:

Whereas by a Contract or Articles of Agreement and a Specification and writings therein referred to bearing evendate with these presents the said John Speake, Builder has contracted to build a certain School and teachers residence at Llanbadarn Fawr in the county of Radnor and the whole of the works to be done in relation thereto with the appurtenances? And for other the purposes and agreements therein mentioned. And whereas ? ? treaty ? for such contract it was stipulated and agreed that the said John Speake Builder and the said Aaron Moseley and the said Edward Hamer should enter into the above mentioned Bond or obligation for the due performance of the said Contract Now the Condition of the above written Bond or obligation is such that if the above founder John Speake his executors or assigns? shall and do well and truly in all respects observe perform fulfil and keep the term and conditions of and the matters and things contained in the said contract on the part of the said John Speake then ?”

The school however was not very well built and there was continuous flooding throughout its history:

The School

Judy described the toilets as appalling. For 50 years the main comments about the school referred to the state of the buildings. There was quite a high rate of teacher turnover and this may have been one of the reasons. Neil was able to tell us that he had been involved in the demolition of part of the Teacher’s house.

In trying to track down the life of the school Judy has tried to gain access to the school logs that were kept by the Teacher in Charge. The detail provided has been very variable. Often teachers referred to ‘usual things’ as their entry. During the 1st World War women were in charge of the school and they did give a more comprehensive picture of the life of the school. After 1919 there is very little access to records due to the 100 year limitation on access to information within the County Archives system.

As mentioned before ‘absenteeism’ was a major concern. When Percy Severn was the Chair of the Board he turned a blind-eye to it as he knew that his tenant s needed the children to help out on the land. . In the School Log, the teacher notes the high incidence of absenteeism and that reporting this to the Board ‘serves no purpose’ as no action is taken.

When the school opened in 1878 there were 67 children enrolled whose ages were between 6 years and 13 years. Numbers rose quickly and in the next year there were 141 children. The Correspondent to the School Board comments on the state of the buildings.  The Log notes  that some of the children are, ‘not at all particular about damaging the fixtures’.

The early years were dominated by:

  • Regular days off to attend local events, these could be many and varied and would include the local Fairs, of which Penybont would be a very big event, circuses, shows, and farming activities.
  • In the build up to war there was a focus on singing patriotic songs and even choruses of “Hooray for England!”
  • Teachers had an interest in showing unusual objects to the children, these objects seemed to have little or no connection with Radnorshire.
  • There was a serious shortage of supplies: – paper, books and when these were asked for, they would often not be forthcoming.
  • Sickness amongst the children and outbreaks of measles and other childhood illnesses affecting the whole school, which would close when badly affected.
  • Then of course there were the usual concerns over poor drainage, poor lavatories, poor heating, and poor cleaning. Getting and keeping cleaners was a significant problem. Heating would be on but it would often be just above freezing in school. A comment on the times was that ‘button holing’ was very weak.
  • Then in 1898 there was the serious disturbance when a boy was caught chasing girls and kissing them, even though he had been strictly told not to. He  got 2 slaps on the hand for this misdemeanour.

At the beginning of the 1st World War the Head Teacher, Mr Jones, was called up on the 23rd September and had to be ready to board the train by 28th September. Rev. Jordan took all of the children from the school to the station to waive him off. A poignant time albeit the expectation was that the war would be over in a few months.

Mrs Jones took over the running of the school and went through a very steep learning curve. In October Belgian refugees whose homes had been bombed arrived by train were welcomed by the scholars. Meanwhile Mrs Jones was rapidly learning woodwork skills and how to work with raffia. An innovation during this period was the arrival, for 2 weeks, of a van from which cookery lessons were delivered by Miss Randle to the 22 young scholars.

Cookery Scholars and Van

Mary was able to see her mother, Myfanwy Thomas, amongst the children. This was just part of the ‘patriotic activities’ that would lead to a ‘War Saving Certificate’.

Inside the cookery van


The following photograph was taken around 1920 and includes Eric and Emily Philips from Guidfa Farm. Eric famously lost all his hair by the age of 17 years!


The next photograph, 1922, was posted to Facebook  by Gary Wood, who now lives in Kent, it includes his mother Eleanor Hamer who is the child 3rd row from the front and 4th child from the left.


During this year the school was closed for 2 weeks due to an epidemic of mumps. Also taken in 1922 was this photograph:


This photo includes: Eleanor Hamer, her sister Freda Hamer (later Goodwin) and Mary Goodwin (later Thomas)

Front row, extreme right sitting is Eric Phillips of Guidfa Farm.

The next photograph, taken in 1925, Judy only received yesterday.


This photo also includes Eleanor Hamer and her sister Freda. Mary Goodwin ? mother-in-law and Joy’s mum who is the child on the extreme left of the front row.

During the 20th Century there was an increasing interest in the health of the children now attending school. The Boer War had raised concerns about the general health of the new city dwellers and the peasantry. In 1905 the Board of Education said:

 ‟opportunity should be found in connection with the curriculum in elementary schools, for imparting to the children who are to become mothers and fathers of the race, the broad principles of healthy living‟

There were lectures to both teachers and children on healthy living, regular health checks, there is a reference, in 1936, to the Dentist being at the school all day checking on teeth, also regular eye tests. In 1937 the Government introduced 1/3 pint of milk each day, which for the first few months was pasteurised in the school by the teachers using two gas burners to heat the milk. Mild s was not free until 1944. Dr Johnson came in regularly to test for TB (known as consumption) and Miss Thornley would give lectures on health, hygiene, and Temperance.

Late 20s

The picture above, taken in the late 20s shows Mr Jones as the Head Teacher on the right.

The 1920s and 30s was a period of social change. There was an annual Music Festival in Llandrindod and the pupils were given music lessons and encouragement to participate in these activities. When Sir Walford Davies, musician and composer, gave a talk in Llandrindod the school was given a half day off school to go and listen to his talk on music. 

There would be an annual talk for the boys on ‘citizenship’. The same talk was repeated each year. Before the 2nd World War there was no place for gardening within the curriculum. The thing that did remain the same were the days off as documented above.

The picture below was taken in the period 1930/2 and has:


Back row left to right: ?, Alan Gough, Clifford Smout, ?, ?, ?, Jimmy Watson, Bill Worthing, Ted Faulkner, Les Evans:  Front row left to right: Derwen Pinches, Annie Richards, Gladys Goodwin, Margaret Hammonds, Gwen Lloyd, Mary Goodwin, Betty Worthing

During the 1930s there were a number of factors that highlighted the changing world that children were witnessing. Today we would not be aware or interested in a teacher who was taking a driving test. This was a big event for the school children. The driving test had been introduced in 1935  and by 1937 the teacher was required to take her test before being able to drive by herself. We don’t know if she passed or not! She probably did as I am sure we would know if s failed.

The WI was gaining momentum as an organisation and they were becoming quite adventurous, they arranged trips to London, Bourneville and Chester.

A new Headmaster was appointed who upset the teaching staff. He was a disciplinarian and was unhappy with the day to day practice in the school. Against this Teachers were becoming more professional and set higher standards for the children, A Supply teacher, Miss Eadie would come to school in an Austin 7. She was a good teacher and was described as a lovely woman.

Attempts were made to improve the conditions at the school. A new water supply was installed but the lead pipes were a problem, prior to this water was drawn from a well in the wood.

In 1938 the football team had their photograph taken:


Names shown on the photograph are:

Back Row left to right: Mervyn Davies, Fred Williams, Fred Brick, David Smout, and Head Teacher Mr Hayward

Front row left to right: Austin Jones, Bob Williams, Reg Bufton, Dennis Brick, Alan Davies, Jim Goodwin, Telford Williams

The beginning of War in 1945 heralded in many changes to life in Llanbadarn Fawr. The wireless suddenly became very important in the home and in school. The wireless helped people keeping in touch with what was going on with the war, but they became important sources of information in schools. Members reminisced about the joy of making a crystal wireless.

One of the big changes in school was the new interest in gardening and growing food.

Once again, the school received evacuees, this time from Bootle. Children were between 3 and 9 years old. One family, a mother with two children, a boy and a girl, wrote about the very happy time they spent in the area. Nan Thomas put them up initially but they later moved to Woodside Cottage.

Socially the big change saw women in increasing roles and responsibilities.

In 1944 there was a new Education Act which established the Primary and Secondary Education System. Llanbadarn Fawr Elementary School, taking children up to 13 years became Llanbadarn Fawr School taking children to 11+. Schooling would go up until 15 years.

Photograph taken 1944/45:


Extreme left:

Mr Breeze (Head Teacher) and on extreme right the teachers are Miss Bufton (the older person) and Miss Jones

Back Row left to right:

Fred G (don’t know what G stands for), Peter Smout, Ralph Oakley, Lyn Williams, Fred Morris, Glenville D (?), Roy Davies, Stuart ?, Brian Oakley, Charlie Phillips, Brian Richards, Michael Lloyd, Cecil Phillips, Hilton Jones (note that there are 15 children in the back row, but only 13 names??) So who is unnamed?

2nd row from back left to right: Miah Lewis, Bill Griffiths, Russel Davies, Glenys Jones, Elizabeth Williams, Margaret Evans, Norma Moorhouse, Dily Smouth, Lilian Bishop, Caroline Morgan, Vera Lewis, Vanessa Brown, Gerald Hope, David Davies, Gwynne Stephens

3rd Row from back (2nd row from front): Irene Lewis, Barbara Jones, Netta Evans, Diana Lee, Josie Collins, Barbara Evans, Jean Hammons, Sheila Lawrence, Jackie Collins, Bunty Lewis, Sylvia Abberley, Helen Jones, Kath Williams

Front Row from left to right: Basil Lewis, Ken Middleton, ?,?, Ralph Williams, Derek Halford, Ray Middleton, Jonathan Morgan, George Griffiths, Vincent Lloyd, John Owens, ?,?.

Photograph 1945/46

Teacher on extreme right is Miss Jones (later Mrs Harry Brown)

Middle Row includes: Derek Halford, Austin Jones, Violet Price

Photograph 1944/5?


Teachers are Miss Jones and Mr Breeze

Back Row: ?, ?, ? Derek Halford, somewhere on this photo is Dai Davies, John Owens, Dough Winwood, and Vincent Lloyd

Middle Row: includes Basil Lewis, George Griffiths (4th from left), Ken Middleton (on extreme right)

Front row: Kath Williams (on extreme right), ? Lewis, Sylvia Abberley (3rd from left) also Pauline Lucas,

Photograph 1946?


Miss Jones is the teacher

Back Row from left to right: Derek Halford, Dai Davies, John Owens, ?, Ken Middleton, ?, Ralph Williams

Front row: ?, George Griffiths, Irene Lewis, Katherine Williams, Sylvia Abberley, Pauline Lucas, Vincent Lloyd

Photograph Early 1950s

Teacher is Mrs Walters

Photograph 1954


Teacher is Mrs Walters:

Back row left to right: Anthony Jones, ? Evans, Valerie Mills, Sheila Brooks, Leslie Whitehead, Julie Middleton, Nancy Williams, ?, ?, ?

Middle Row: Delia Evans, Douglas Bayliss, Elizabeth Bayliss, Haydn Bufton, Marlene Campbell, Gwyn Phillips, Rosemary Morgan, Leonard Weale, Christine Heppel

Front Row left to right: Jackie Reynolds, David Morgan, David Green, Bryndley Jones, ?, John Phillips, ?

Photograph 1950?


Teacher is Mr Breeze

Photograph 1958?

Back Row left to right: Roger Watson, Dennis Davies, Barbara Harris, Sylvia Watling, Maureen Robinson, Leslie Powell, ?, Desmond Powell, Neil Richards, Andrew Stephens, Gaynor Lewis and standing on extreme right is Ivor Goodwin

Front row left to right: next to Roger Watson is Stephen Warren, Jackie Pemberton, Joy Harris, Susan Goodwin, Janet Morgan, Pamela Faulkner, Toni Pemberton, Ann ?, Helen Hughes, Nigel Robinson

Please note: Neil Richards makes his first appearance!

Photograph 1960?


Back row left to right: Dennis Davies, Roger Watson, Christine Morgan, Movita Reynolds, Caroline Lawrence, Christopher Lewis, Judith Stephens, Leslie Powell, Diane Robinson, Laurie Pemberton, Gregory Warren, Gaynor Lewis

Front row left to right: Sylvia Watling, Desi Powell, Ivor Goodwin, Neil Richards, Anne ?, Andrew Stephens, Maureen Robinson, Joy Harris, Barbara Harris, Toni Pemberton, Anne ?, Pamela Faulkner

Please note that we now have both Judy and Neil in this photo.

Photograph Late 1960s

Back row left to right: Joy Harris, Linda McDermot, Maureen Robinson, Gaynor Lewis, Rowan Collins, Ivor Goodwin, Neil Richards

Middle Row left to right: Tony Stephens, Janet Morgan, Pam Faulkner, Helen Hughes, Diana Davies, Stephen Warren

Front row left to right: Nigel Robinson, Graham Clark, ? Powell, Clive Green, ?

Photograph Late 1960s

The group had obtained their cycle proficiency – including Neil!

Photograph Early 1970s

Adults are:

On extreme left: Mrs Joyce Mills and on her left  Mrs Dot Green and extreme right is Mrs May Phillips, all members of the school cook team Mrs Phillips was the chief School Cook.

The teachers in the middle in second row from the front are Mrs Matcher, Mr Thomas and Miss Sue Davies

Some of the teachers include:

John Howat  1878-9

Henry & Helena Davies 1880-92

John and Alice Jones 1900-1930

Mr Hayward 1931 to 1940 (or later?)

Mr Breeze died very suddenly

Mr Warren 1959

Mr Thomas…

Judy commented particularly favourably on Mr Warren who had been a navigator during the War. He died at the age of just 50 years and is buried at Rock Chapel.

When the school bell rope rotted away a letter was sent to the Secretary of Education. The solution was to use a whistle.

Mrs Matcher was something of a celebrity as she was godmother to Cliff Richard. She was a lovely lady, and she wore gold bands.

Judy’s sources included:

Sylvia and Ray Price

Llanbadarn Fawr School Logs

HMI Reports

Lingen, Symons, Vaughan Johnson (1847) Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales

Oliver, RCB (1971) The Squires of Penybont Hall

Bevan, R (1990), The State of Education in Radnorshire in 1818, Radnorshire Society Transactions 1990

There were no log books after 1940. The HMI Reports could be very informative and have gems like: “More Hat Pegs Needs”.

Comments after the talk:

A general comment was made about how different the value of education was seen for different families living in quite different circumstances.

Books were often given to the children as prizes but these had very little relevance to life in Radnorshire. E.g. ‘Brave Soldiers of the Empire’.

Good attendance at school was bizarrely often rewarded with time off school.

Judith mentioned that Geraint has been trying to persuade her to write a booklet on the school. Colin Hughes is due to give a talk to the Radnor Society on Radnorshire Schools.

Geriant went back to the Treachery of the Blue Books and congratulated Bob Dennison on receiving an award at the National Eisteddfod for a category in the Welsh Language.

Llanbadarn Fawr School was not the only school to get strange comments from the Inspectors. At Nantmel they commented on the pig in the classroom and in another school, there was a cow.

Geraint thanked Judy for her brilliant talk.

Our next meeting will be on the 7th October when Joe Botting will talk on ‘The Geological Basis of Local History’

Penybont and District History Group Notes 1st July 2019 Main Topic: Llandegley, Now and Then – A Virtual Tour with Shirley Morgan and Geraint Hughes

Penybont and District History Group Notes

1st July 2019

Main Topic: Llandegley, Now and Then – A Virtual Tour with Shirley Morgan and Geraint Hughes

Geraint welcomed everyone with an apology for having decided to change the original plan for today – a walk around the village of Llandegley. Due to ground conditions when he did a rekey 3 weeks ago in the pouring rain, and a number of other factors Geraint decided, having consulted with Shirley and Derek, that it would be better to put a slide-show together with photographs of Llandegley and, in effect, conduct a ‘virtual walk’ around the village.

Annette made a couple of announcements about events in Dolau. One related to an Open Garden event that is coming up very soon, and the other for a Concert featuring the Builth Male Voice Choir and the Dolau Mixtures which will happen this coming Friday at 7.30 p.m.

When Neil was asked if he had anything to contribute, for the first time in history, Neil had ‘nothing to say’!

Derek asked if the group would put together a display board relating to Penybont and World War 2 at the Tractor Run next June. It was agreed that this was something we would insert into our programme for the year ahead.  Geraint does not at this moment have many photos but it was agreed that we would attempt to work on it over the year ahead.

Recently Geraint was contacted by a Belgian family whose Grandparents had come to Bryn Ithon in 1915 as refugees. Geraint had a picture that the family had sent which was a bit faded. He planned to send the family a picture of Bryn Ithon as it is today. Mary wondered if Polly Lewis might have known something of this family. Elizabeth said that a number of Belgian families came to Kington at that time and wondered if this family might have had some connection to this group.

Geraint reminded members that the next meeting will not be until 2nd September when Judy Dennison will talk about Llanbadarn Fawr School. Geraint mentioned that Judy would be pleased if anyone in the group has, or knows, of any material relating to the school. Please, if they could contact her or bring their information on the day.

Main Topic: Llandegley, Now and Then – A Virtual Tour

Geraint and Shirley started with the by now infamous sign that has given Llandegley an international profile. This wonderful piece of spoofery has bemused and befuddled people for several years to the point that the sign has now been ‘listed’. Neil thinks that Terminal 2 is at his place as he has so many callers asking about the whereabouts of the International Airport. Nicholas Whitehead, who dreamed up the idea one snowy night while visiting friends in Llandegley, could not have imagined that the sign would still be attracting so much attention 7 years on. At one point the sign was taken down but this signalled a public outcry to have it put back, and back it is. John Abberley remembers, as one of the most exciting days of his life, the day during the 2nd World War that 2 USA planes did land at Llandegley, in his father’s field behind the Ffaldau. They only stayed for a couple of hours but at that moment Llandegley was an International Airport after all.  

If the International Airport sign had ‘some’ claim to historical accuracy, Geraint, a proud Welsh Speaker, was less sure about the historical basis for the Welsh version of Llandegley on the sign, Llandeglau?

This Tythe map emphasises the tiny nature of Llandegley as a village.

Featured on the Map are:

St. Techla’s Church,

The Graveyard


Ty’n y Llan

Burton House


Two Wells are shown and there was some discussion about other wells that may have been associated with particular houses, Geraint was sure that there was a well within Pound House that got concreted over, and wells that were village wells.

The Vicarage is just shown off to the west with a lane, Frog Lane, going down to the Brook.

LB was thought to refer to the Letter Box in the village.

The letter P, which features twice, stumped us, perhaps they might refer to Village Pumps, as opposed to wells.

Some of the sheds at Ty’n y Llan would have been knocked down when the bypass was constructed as they would have been in the middle of the road.

When we look at the village ‘then’ and ‘now’ the big change is the bypass which sweeps around cutting off the farm Ty’n y Llan from the village. The bypass was created during the 1920’s when some farm buildings were lost as one of the sheds would have been in the middle of the road. Shirley told us that the original vicarage, which is marked on the Tythe Map, had been described as something of ‘hovel’.

This picture of Llandegley Rocks, by Gareth Rees-Roberts, is one of many that illustrate the beautiful setting that the village is fortunate enough to enjoy.

We have in previous notes documented the history of the Pales Meeting House, this photograph, looking up into the Radnor Forest taken from the Pales, also show the village in its setting.

Here we have the village again, as seen from Llandegley Rocks. At the top of Llandegley Rocks is the great Pearl Rock overlooking the village with an air of distinction. To a question about the name ‘Pearl’, Shirley believes that it is so named because you can find Quartz Crystals and she remembers collecting crystals for her grandchild.

These two pictures show Persondy Field, the field under the Church, the field under the Church. Geraint said there had been an archaeological dig carried out in the field but he had no details of what they had found. CPAT have done a survey of the village however and this can be found at:

Getting closer to Pearl Rock the path is well defined as the postman delvers mail her to Pearl House:

In Geraint’s time as vicar he knew a Mr Barker who lived in this remote and secluded property. He was something of an innovator, who made his own fridge, tapped into a spring to get water for his bathroom, and he had his own generator for electricity. He had worked in the aircraft industry in Coventry. His daughter married into the Duggan family but tragically died at the age of 28 years. Mr Barker was the first person in the area to own and drive a Land Rover.

Pearl Rock can present as a dramatic mountain feature:

From a book, ‘Railways of Radnorshire’ Geraint had found this map:

There is reference to Llandegley Halt. This map covers proposed railways prior to the reversal of Government Policy and the Beaching cuts that never happened. It does show the Heart of Wales Line running down from Hopton Heath to Garth. Companies planned their own routes independently. A line running from New Radnor to Llandegley, one might presume, would go on to Pen-y-bont, whereas it veers off towards Hundred House and to somewhere marked as Capel Bethesda, a name not known to anyone in the group. Similarly, there was no knowledge of the two Gunstone Junctions that embrace a link between to two Lines?

Shirley and Geraint then took us back to the Pales Lane where Neil’s grandparents used to live. The had a ‘cosy cottage’ that has now gone completely. The photo below hardly does justice to ‘cosy’ however:

Near to the house was the corn mill that had an over-shot wheel. It stopped working in 1861. The before and after photos are as it was in 2005 and how it is today. Unlike today, corn was widely grown locally along with barley for beer.

The footpath past the mill goes sharp left and you come across another mystery – a bridge over the Mithil River. It looks a bit like a military bridge with huge metal girders. There is no hand rail and it does not join up with the paths or tracks.

In our previous Notes we have written about the Spa and its connection with Burton House. The Spa building has all but disappeared the pictures below are 2005 and then now.

Back to the centre of the village and the before and now are in stark contrast to each other in one remarkable way. Can you spot the difference?

Well, of course there is the Telephone Kiosk, now a Defibulator Kiosk, but more significantly it is the lack of people in the recent photograph. The loss of amenities in villages has had a dramatic impact on village life. No longer are people walking to the shop, having conversations in the street, informal social interaction has died up as people go off to the bigger towns in their cars. Ray and Sylvia, within their collection of photos, and having run the Post Office in Penybont see this everywhere.

Another view of the centre of the village also throws up some amazing changes. How many can you spot?

Burton House, formerly Burton Hotel, featured in one of previous talks, and is dominant in many of the photos in the centre of the village. Here it is from 2 different sides a few years ago and followed by one recent photo.

Neils’ Grandmother used to talk to him about the joy of coming down to the village as a child to watch the coaches arriving and leaving from the Burton Hotel.

Across the road was the carpenter’s shop:

Inside there are still some of the Carperter’s paraphernalia:

Somewhere adjacent was a carpenter’s shop and it may have been in one of these buildings:

The cobbled yard would have come across the road. The farm was noted for being very boggy.

Primrose Cottage has been mentioned in previous despatches and was originally three separate dwellings:

Joy was able to tell us that her sister was born on the kitchen table as a ‘blue baby’. If it had not been for the intervention of the by now infamous, Nurse Gittings she would not have survived.

Joy also remembered that her dad, who was 6ft 4in, got so fed up banging his head on a door frame that he cut a section out  of the frame so that he could get through more easily. The family eventually moved to Birmingham but Joy then returned to the village.

There are still 3 staircases in the house.

Percy Bufton lived there in the 1960s. Percy had the most wonderful aviary. He had been batman to Sir Peter Scott. John Abberly always contends that Percy kept a monkey there as well. Percy arranged a trip to Slimbridge for all the children, which was a great treat.

Next we come to the school:

The building, designed by Lingen Barker and dating from 1871, has not changed very much over the years as seen above. This picture, taken in 1885, is at:

A canteen was built on in 1944, but water and electricity did not come until the 1950’s. The in-going most dominant feature of the school as you read through the log books was the state of the privies. They were a constant source of irritation. Located over the stream with a partition separating the boys from the girls, and when the water froze, they had to close the school. Luxury was having a 2-seater.

Moving on to Pound House where the village ‘pound’ would have been located and possibly stocks and a whipping post to boot. The House itself became a Traveller’s Resting Place for vagrants and other travellers. This was not a workhouse, as the one for this area was in Kington, and it was not a church initiative, but something inspired by the community to do their best for ‘tramps in transit’.

Mrs Bennett is widely remembered as someone who lived here for a period and in a way carried on the tradition. She is remembered for being an ideal hostess who would lavish coffee, cakes and sweets on any passing visitors. A comment was made that it was a wonder that anyone had a tooth left in their head!

Church House had been the cobblers shop. In our archives we have a book of accounts for the shoes being sold by the cobbler all set out according to the needs of every farm locally. In the back of the book their was a record of deductions that were made according to the circumstances that prevailed at each farm. The Insall family, who featured in a recent talk, also lived in Church House.

1959 saw a major development in Llandegley when the Council Houses were built. Built by Deakins the design was considered ‘dreadful’. They did however, much to the delight of the headmaster at the school, bring in 17 additional children.

Moving to the main and most dominant feature of the village, St Tecla’s Parish Church we see that the towers have changed. The old tower collapsed in 1947 and the rebuild was finished in 1953 using stone from Llwynbarried Hall, Nantmel.

There is more information at:

Geraint felt he could ‘bore’ us for at least 2 hours, Neil thought that this was about the same as his old sermons! Geraint simply told us that the Font was Norman in origin and the bell dates back to 1630.

The exact date that the original church was built is not known as there are no records before the Norman conquest in 1066. The first reference to a church in Llandegley was when Geraldus met the Abbott in 1190 and this link with Cwmhir Abbey is also in the  cusped South Door, which it is thought came from the Abbey.

The first vicar appointed to the Church was in 1401 just before the Battle of Pilleth in 1402.

A recent alteration has been made at the back of the Church. A balcony with rooms for the Sunday School, supported by Shirley, and a kitchen have been added.

In the graveyard there is a tomb for the MacIntosh family who were the ancesters of Julian Fellows and the link to Penybont Hall and Downton Abbey.

The first ‘Dr’ in the area was Dr Evans was really what was known as a ‘bone setter’ and unqualified. His skill in helping people gave him the name Dr. His son did qualify as a Doctor and the Ffaldau was used as the surgery for many years.

Francis Payne, who lived in Jane’s house, and was Curator if St Fagan’s Folk Museum in Cardiff, is also buried in the churchyard. Francis wrote a ‘History of Radnorshire’ but strangely had as dislike of Wales before he came.He then became a fluent Welsh speaker and a great advocate of the Welsh language.

Eileen Mary Jones was the daughter of an Americain GI and born during the first world war. Very unusual in the area, she was black. She was a remarkable surviver and ov ercomer. At that time being illegitimate and black were both subject to prejudice, but she overcame the challenges that life had thrown at her. She became known to be a delightful person. She progressed to become a nursing sister. Sadly she died of breast cancer quite young, at 36 yrs in 1981,  .

The Old Vicarage was sold by the Church for £1000 in the 1940’s for £1000 alongwith 20 acres of land. It was sold again recently and there is a lot of work being done to restore the house and the grounds.

Cornhill Chapel, we have mentioned in previous Notes, was a Primitive Methodist Chapel but is now sadly something of a ruin and becoming more ruinous each year. The early picture was taken in 2005 and then the second picture this year. The Chapel is included albeit it is technically in the Llanfiangel Nant Melan Parish.

In some ways the delapidated state fits with the picture of the chapel in session and ducks wandering into the service.

As you proceed towards the Pales, Rhonllyn Farm is adjacent to the junction on the way up from the village.

The Pales, which we have in the past covered in detail, has had a face lift in recent years. As one of only two thatched Meeting Houses in the UK, it looks quiet resplended in its newly thatched roof.

Larch Grove, where Neil Richards lives, and on the way up into the Radnor Forest can become snow bound, as happened in 1981.

Then there is a building that has completely dissappeared, the Loggin where John Abberley’s uncle lived in a building on the main road, that was just before the Old Vicarage. The river ran just behind it and when Shirley went there as a child for the butcher’s shop, she was in awe of the chickens running about and playing.

And finally, the beautiful setting for Spring Rock fishing lake.

Penybont and District History Group Notes 3rd June 2019 Main Topic: The Insall Family and the early history of the Royal Flying Corps – Shirley Morgan

Geraint opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and reminding members that next month we are due to have a walk around Llandegley. The plan is to meet here at the Thomas Shop for coffee at 10.00 a.m. and then travel up to Llandegley where Shirley will lead the walk.

There will be no Meeting in August and our next Meeting will be on 2nd September when Judy Dennison will give a talk on Llanbadarn Fawr School.

 Geraint was both excited and amused to help Ray in the last few weeks with an enormous box of diverse papers relating to Jim Smout’s life and interests. Ray had been given them and Geraint was trying to help sort them. They related to 3 facets of Jim’s life:

  1. His Family life
  2. His relationship to the Roman Catholic Church
  3. His life as a Signalman

Geraint remembers Jim very fondly as a man who went out of his way to help other people. He remembers his ringing around the country to try and find a lost handbag for a lady; and then there was the instance of a tortoise on the level crossing. Jim stopped the train to have the tortoise moved to one side; but then they could not find it. A year later, possibly the same tortoise, well they thought it was, was found by his children. They tried to return it to the original owners, but they were happy for the children to have it! All happy in the end.

Geraint then asked Shirley to take centre stage and to talk about a subject she had known nothing about.

Main Topic: The Insall Family and the early history of the Royal Flying Corps

Shirley started by apologising to any experts who might be present as she has done her best to research something that she had never expected to be exploring. She was not sure if it was a ‘divine intervention’ but on a wet day she and her family had a change of plan and decided to go to the Bristol Aerospace Exhibition at Filton to see Concorde.


This to her astonishment included an amazing exhibition of very old and pioneer planes. Suddenly some of the things that she had been reading about, which had made little sense, became clear. Shirley had been reading about how in the very early days of flight they used linseed, dope and very basic materials. This meant little to her until she saw the aircraft at Filton and saw how the canvas (dope) and other materials were used in making the Bristol Boxkite.


Her second divine intervention came on a trip to Tesco when she found a second hand book on the History of the RAF. – It transpired that the divine intervention had come through Elizabeth who had given the book to Tesco. This helped her to get a good understanding of the history before tackling the book written by John Algernon Insall – Observer.

In her talk Shirley decided that it would be best to cover the history of the Royal Flying Corps first and then introduce the Insall family and their contribution to that history at the end.

‘Don’t fly too close to the sun’ was the refrain that heralded Icarus’s attempt at flying. This led to disaster as far as Icarus was concerned but did not halt the aspirations of mankind to take to the air. There were even Biblical references to Elijah and Elisha relating to flight. It was not however until the developments of the first airship in 1852, leading to the use of the German Zeppelin in the First World War, and then the internal combustion engine 1859, that things really began to progress.

Flight as we have come to know it took a major step forward when the Wright Brothers, on 17th December 1903, took to the air for all of 12 seconds, getting up to 59 seconds with practice. This was the first sustained, controlled, powered flight in an aircraft that was heavier than air. It took place in Kitty Hawk, Carolina. Wilbur and Orville invented a wing warping system that generated lift and manoeuvrability and after a long period of trials with gliders their first flight was witnessed by only three people; a coastguard, a local business man and a boy from the village.

While in 1908 the British Government were banning experiments with flight, in France Henri Farman and Louis Bleriot were collaborating with Wilbur Wright. In 1909 Bleriot flew across the Channel from Calais to Dover in 37minutes.

The British Government’s decision did not last long and in 1910 Brooklands motor racing track, through its owner, made room for a runway in the middle of the track. This first aerodrome had sheds for Sopworth, Vickers, and Whites. By 1914 they had a school for pilots and they trained more pilots than anywhere else in the country.

While many of the major powers in Europe embraced these new flying machines the British Government were still reluctant to embrace aviation. In 1910 a frustrated Royal Field Officer tried to demonstrate their importance to the defence of the Realm when he flew a Bristol aircraft over army manoeuvres. For his efforts he was reprimanded for spooking the horses. Despite political procrastination attitudes did begin to change and with the potential of war on the horizon the British Aeronautical Service was created in 1911. It had a Military Wing, a Naval Wing, a Central Flying School, and a Royal Aircraft Factory. The new service was given Royal approval in 1912 and the Royal Flying Corps was formed as the military wing of the British Army. Its motto was: Per Ardua ad Astra – Through Adversity to the Stars.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 the Royal Flying Corps expanded dramatically under the leadership of their notable Commanders Sir David Henderson and Hugh Trenchard.  From 1 squadron in 1914 they had 5 squadrons in 1918. In 1914 they had 105 Officers and 63 aeroplanes. They had biplanes and monoplanes that had been adapted for use and a general-purpose plane such as the BE2 had a top speed of 70 m.p.h.


By the end of the war the planes were being purpose built and included SE Fighter:

The SE Fighter was powered by a 200hp engine and could fly at 138 m.p.h. The other big change during the war was that in the early planes the propeller faced backwards and pushed the aircraft, whereas they changed to a ‘tractor’ layout where the propeller faced forward and pulled the plane.

The primary function of the aircraft at the beginning of the war was reconnaissance, no guns were mounted on the planes, and it was only the crew who carried guns and rifles. Planes at this stage were not used to carry bombs. The planes flew over the battle field to see what was going on and reported back to inform battle planes. They were often fired at by the enemy leading to the need to change the insignia as the Union Jack proved difficult to identify and planes could be shot at by their own ground troops.

As the war progressed pilots got drawn in fights with enemy pilots, guns were mounted on the aircraft and bombs began to be dropped on enemy installation. Aircraft were not the decisive actors in WW1 that they would prove to be in future conflicts but the shape of things to come had emerged.

A new industry emerged to improve and manufacture more and better planes. More women became employed, mainly women who had been in domestic service, and they proved to be quick and accurate workers. The materials used in making the planes was very basic: wooden trusses overlaid with linen. They used Sitka Spruce, Ash, Douglas Fir, all of which were cheap and available. Linen production went up threefold in Ireland. The linen was ‘doped’ with cellulose nitrate to shrink the fabric but about 180 yards were needed for each plane. This would last for just 12 flights.


Photography was a whole new concept in relation to warfare and its introduction was quite controversial. Some Officers expressed the view that it was “an ungentlemanly into the private affairs, breaching the unwritten code of chivalry in warfare.” The enemy had no such inhibitions when they launched the first gas attack at Ypres in April 1915.

Initially there were no specialist cameras that could take vertical and oblique photographs.

The development of the A-Type camera was a major step forward but by 1917 they had gone on to the L-Type and the photographer just had to press a trigger for the exposure to be taken automatically.

A School of Photography was established at Farnborough where expert personnel were trained in printing plates, enlarging prints, showing lantern slides, preparing maps, and maintaining the cameras.  The real skill was in interpreting the photographs for military use. With developing skills, they were able to identify battery positions, mortar and machine emplacements, wire, sniper posts, headquarters, tracks of troops, and many other factors to assist the war effort.


Radio was well established before the war and the transmission of Morse Code was by this stage in common use, the Marconi Transmitter fitted into an aircraft could send a Morse signal to the ground, and with the technological advances in radio reliable voice communication was also possible. Planes had operators with portable transmitters that could quickly warn ground troops of enemy positions and gas attacks.


Planes quickly moved from being lumbering artillery spotters with no weapons to becoming more robust structures manned by Fighter Pilots. Guns were mounted on the fuselage that used a ‘synchronization gear system’ to fire between the propellers.

Frontline pilots soon devised ways of dropping bombs by hand over the side of the plane and by 1915 bomb racks were fitted which could be released by pulling s cable in the cockpit. Bombing raids on ground troops became increasingly hazardous as troops learned the art of deflection shooting at slow moving planes.

The Pilots

On the whole the pilots were from privileged backgrounds, some of the mechanics did become pilots, and if anyone happened to have any previous experience of flying, however little, they were also directed towards being a pilot. The living conditions for the pilots was somewhat above those of the other services. They ate and drank well, the latter possibly accounting for over 50% of the 14,000 pilots lost during WW1, most of these during training. Death and loss were all around the pilots leading to a certain desensitisation and they just moved into someone else’s seat at the table when death occurred. They would routinely carry a pistol as this was considered to offer a better alternative to being burned to death. Parachutes were not used by the service as there was a concern that this might give rise to a wave of cowardice.

The concept of Aces amongst the enemy pilots with pilots like the Red Dragon becoming folk heroes. The British Pilots did take on the idea and any pilot who shot down 5 enemy planes was considered to be an Ace. One such Ace was Gilbert Insall, the brother of Algernon John Insall who came to live in Llandegley. Gilbert appeared on the Ace Cigarette Cards:

Gilbert was awarded the VC and the MC. At one point during the war he was captured and imprisoned. He made, what was described as a ‘miraculous escape’. He was then shot down and badly injured over enemy lines, and in a set of circumstances that led to a coincidence of war, he was taken to a military hospital and while he was on a stretcher one of the stretcher bearers recognised him.  The Stretcher Bearer had been a member of a hockey team from Germany who had come to Paris before the war and had played against Gilbert.

Algernon John Insall (Jack)

It was Jack Insall who promoted our interest in the Royal Flying Corps, he was not a native of this area and only came to live in Llandegley, with his family, in the 1960’s. Jack with his wife Mary and son Malcolm moved into Church House.

Jack was actually born in France. His father had moved to Paris and had developed a thriving Dentistry Practice in the city. Jack, his older brother Gilbert, younger brother Cecil, and his sister Esme, were all born in Paris. Gilbert and Jack enjoyed cycling and would regularly cycle out to an airfield on the edge of Paris where Louis Bleriot and Maurice Farman were experimenting with their new flying machines. On one occasion the boys were treated to a trip in one of the planes.

Educated in Paris both boys went on to University at the Sorbonne and they were very aware of the growing tensions across Europe as Germany were responsible for several acts of aggression before, on 28th June 1914 the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering a full-scale invasion of France in the August. Dr Insall and his family became acutely aware that being British nationals could be hazardous and they managed to get places on the last boat leaving for Britain. Hoping that tensions would quickly die down Dr Insall was shocked to discover, the next morning, written up on a blackboard, while still on the boat, that Britain were at war with Germany.

On their arrival in Britain both Gilbert and Jack joined up, enlisting in The Royal Fusiliers ‘University and Public Schools Brigade’ and began their military training. During the Spring of 1915 an Officer read out an urgent appeal for volunteers to join the Royal Flying Corps. Their Platoon Commander had become aware that Gilbert and Jack had had ‘flying experience’, albeit a couple of pleasure flights that lasted about 10 minutes, and encouraged them to volunteer. Three weeks later they were at Brooklands where they were no longer Privates in the army but 2nd Lieutenants in the Flying Corps. From Brooklands they went to Netheravon where Jack’s training progressed well but after a bad landing, when he badly gashed his knee, he developed a phobia in relation to landing. Jack decided that he would modify his training to become an Observer rather than a Pilot. This role was no less dangerous as he still went up with a Plane and he would be responsible for: compass bearings; spotting troop movements; communications; photography; and operating machine guns.

Jack chronicled his exploits and these have been published in a book: ‘Observer’. He was involved in hundreds of missions some of which were extremely dangerous. The Observer has been an important source for the history of the Royal Flying Corps.  In it he recalls nearly falling out of a plane while taking photographs, and the dark days when the Fokker Eindecker planes with their synchronised, or interrupter, shooting method were a real challenge for the British planes.

The cardinal rule that pilots operated to was ‘Go into the attack – whenever you see the Hun, no matter where he is, be he alone or accompanied – go for him and shoot him down’.

He talks fondly of the loss of his comrades, amongst them Albert Ball, a British flying Ace.

Albert Ball was from more humble stock than many of his comrades. He preferred to live in a bell tent and tend his garden, rather than having high class quarters.

Jack described some of the crashes he witnessed and how a plane could be reduced to a heap of dust and debris in a matter of seconds. In 1916 Jack was promoted to an RFC administrative post on the Somme. Seeing the filth, death and deprivation that soldiers faced was quite an eye opener for Jack. Nobody who was in France at the Somme would ever forget it.

Jack was seriously injured while at the Somme. A box of faulty ammunition exploded when it fell off a table in his office. He was rushed to a field hospital where the Colonel in Charge told the New Zealand Medical Officer to whip out Jack’s injured eye and throw it away. The MO from New Zealand begged to try and save the eye. Jack describes how, despite having none of the right equipment he removed the eye between his fingers and thumb, secured it with a pair of pliers, and trimmed away the protruding bits from the iris with nail scissors, and then pressed the eye back into position and bandaged him up. Jack never saw the New Zealander again but remembers his extraordinary kindness at a time when there were so many deserving casualties from the battlefield for the MO to attend to.

Jack’s younger brother Cecil, after working for the Red Cross helping misplaced persons, joined the RFC in 1918, just before the end of the war. His parents and sister returned to Paris where Dr Insall re-established his dentistry practice. His mother and sister also did work for the Red Cross.

Jack continued to work for the RFC and then the RAF and was pensioned out in 1927. During WW2 he had a desk job and was a founder member of the Imperial War Museum with special responsibility for aircraft exhibits.

While he was working at the museum, he met many people who told him stories of their war time experiences. One of the visitors was a quiet little man whose experience was very closely related to Jack’s experience as an Observer.  His name was Richard Hesketh of the Thornton Pickard Photographic Manufacturing Company. At the beginning of 1915 it had already become evident that the cameras being used by the Observers were inadequate. Richard, a civilian, was summoned to London from Altringham, in Cheshire, on a Friday in February 1915 to meet with the senior officers from the Photographic Department of the RFC. Discussions took place as to the requirements of a purpose-built camera for aerial photography. At midday Mr Hesketh sent a telegram to Altringham for a car to meet him at the station, and for two Works Foremen to be at his house. They discussed the design implications until dawn the next day. Shortly after 9 a.m. modifications were being made to the first prototype, and production began. Within 3 days the finished camera was in London. Minor modifications were needed so this delayed production slightly, but by Saturday, just one week later, the camera was being used over France.

Jack Insall was recognised as an authority in aeronautical history and he wrote widely for the technical press. When he and his family came to Llandegley in the sixties he enjoyed fishing and wrote for a fishing magazine. When he died in 1972, he was buried in Llandegley Churchyard.


John Abberley knew Jack very well. He described him as a lovely neighbour.

Shirley had been at school with Jack’s son Malcolm and in a twist of fate Shirley’s house in Penybont is the one that Malcolm and her mother moved to after Jack died. Malcolm was a draughtsman and was described as very bright but something of a recluse.

When Shirley did some research on her house, she discovered that Jack had drawn up plans for a house that was never built. A more modest bungalow was built after Jack died. Shirley had to do extensive renovations to the bungalow and in the process found some rather posh silver spoons that had been used for stirring paint.

Geraint, who lives next door to Shirley had been involved in helping to shut down the house after Malcolm died, he did not find the spoons. Malcolm was a single gentleman so it was all a bit sad shutting up the house.

Geraint thanked Shirley for a wonderful talk that explained quite clearly how ‘Penybont had won the war!!!’

Geraint asked members to think about topics for next year’s programme as we will need to be planning it in the coming months. In the plan he felt that it would be important to think of a topic for Shirley that ‘she knows nothing about’!!!

Penybont and District History Group Notes 6th May 2019 Main Topic: Dams that did NOT Happen – Richard Rees

Geraint welcomed John and Amelia Worth as newcomers to the History Group. John is Mary’s brother and of course a direct link into the Thomas Family and the life of Penybont.

Gill from Rhayader was also welcomed to this session, as was Diana Duggan who now lives in Hereford.

Shirley mentioned a new initiative for the village. Following the last Macmillan Coffee morning she and a few others noticed that people were reluctant to leave. They had the feeling that there was a need for an opportunity for people in the village to meet up. They are starting a Coffee Morning on 20th May in the Village Hall and this will be on-going on the 3rd Monday of every month.

Shirley will also be the Main Speaker at our next meeting on 3rd June. The focus of her presentation will be the Insall Family and the beginning of the Flying Corps.

In July we will walk around Llandegley.

No Meeting in August but Judy will be our Main Speaker in September and she will be talking about Llanbadarn Fawr School.

Main Topic: The Dams that did NOT Happen – Richard Rees

Geraint welcomed Richard to our meeting and thanked him for coming all the way from Lanwrda, in Carmarthenshire, to give us the benefit of his research into Victorian Plans that could have reshaped much of Mid Wales.

As an engineer Richard has an interest and passion for what was historically known as the Central Wales Railway, and is now known as the Heart of Wales line. It was in pursuing this interest that he came across an anomaly that has led to research into the Rivers and Waters of Mid Wales. A map of the rivers of Wales:

shows the concentration of rivers within Mid Wales.

In his research Richard discovered a plan to divert the Central Wales Railway and this intrigued him and he decided that he needed to find out more. As he began to look, he discovered more and more about the Victorian plans to get water for London from Mid Wales. Richard’s research took him to National Library of Wales, House of Lords, Kew Archives and many other establishments that helped him to put together the complete plan to draw water to serve the needs of the growing population in London.

It was the plan to divert the railway between Cilmeri and Llanwrtyd that drew his attention. This potential major change to the railway line was estimated to cost £140,930 in 1898, a not insignificant amount. This puzzled Richard. The diversion of the line would take it North of Garth and about 1-mile East of Llanwrtyd. But this was only the beginning! What was going on!??

The need to improve the water supply for London was identified around 1894. The Chief Engineer for the London Council, Sir Alexander Richardson Binnie, took on the challenge. He saw Mid Wales as an area rich in water, and with a very sparse population, and therefore providing the potential for a major scheme that would meet the needs of the city dwellers in London. Binnie looked at Mid Wales as a resource, not as farms homes, and a resource for the people of Mid Wales. He saw a multitude of rivers and he had the engineering potential to draw them together into an opportunity to meet the needs of Londoners.

Binnie was a man who got things done, knighted for his engineering achievements he saw Mid Wales as the solution to the water needs of London.

The Wye and its tributaries were his target. The particular rivers included Towy, Usk, Irfon, Ithon, and Edw Rivers. These are just few of the 42 rivers that came into Binnie’s plans. When we think of the Elan Valley providing water to Birmingham, this was dwarfed by Binnie’s vision and would have supplied about 5 times the amount of water to London.

The impact on the area would have been enormous but the reservoirs would be only one aspect of this. One town and 30 villages would have been submerged or cought up in the scheme. Richard notes that 60% of Brecknockshire, 50% of Radnorshire and large parts of Carmarthenshire would have been severely impacted by Binnie’s scheme.

If we start in the north, there would have been a reservoir on the northern edge of the Elan Valley stretching up the Upper Wye Valley. The one that would have had the most impact on Penybont area was a reservoir that was almost square that would stretch from well north on Llanbadarn Fynydd down to Llanddewi. Below this and also very close to Penybont would have been a smaller reservoir in the Edw Valley that would have taken in Hundred House and Franksbridge. The Chapel on the Hill at Franksbridge would have been on the edge of the reservoir.

The main catchment area was associated with the Towy and Irfon where a vast reservoir would be created. This would be in the region of about 3 times the size of the area encompassed by the reservoirs in the Elan Valley. This would extend into some smaller reservoirs along the Usk and over towards Llangorse where the reservoir already there would be raised by 98 feet making it of similar size to the Ithon Valley reservoir. Between the reservoirs there would be tunnels and aqueducts constructed to take water from one system to others and as part of keeping the river waters flowing.

Creating these tunnels and aqueducts would swallow up more land. One of the tunnels would have cut through from the Ithon reservoir at Llanddewi close to Crossgates. Then there would have been an aqueduct in the Edw valley near Bettws. All of this infrastructure would have necessitated an enormous amount to compulsory purchase and Binnie had plans for all these purchases drawn up. While there would have been opposition locally there were also opportunists. The owners of the Epynt House Hotel, now known as Lake Hotel Langammarch, rushed an extension into being, using very basic materials, in order to get more compensations should the scheme have gone ahead. It is also worth remembering that it was not only the properties affected by the reservoirs and the infrastructure that were affected. Huge areas of land and properties that could potentially pollute the water supply were also subject to compulsory purchase.

Richard gave us a hint at the scale of the impact to the area when he listed the destruction in the Irfon Valley alone:

69 farmhouses        212 houses

20 cottages             2 mansions

37 shops                 9 workshops

3 hotels                   7 public houses

3 blacksmiths          5 water mills

4 railway stations     3 schools

9 chapels                 4 churches

1 brickworks            1 public hall

For some years we, at the Thomas Shop, had been reading William Thomas’s advertisement for his ‘Steam Laundry’ at the Thomas Shop as a joke, but the talk by Richard brought home how this scheme must have been a hot topic of conversation during the latter end of the Victorian Era and into the Edwardian Era. William Thomas wrote in 1905:

“W.T. has been fortunate in securing a competent Trained Staff and excellent Management. The Water Supply is perfectly suited for the requirements of a Laundry, and is the same as the Londoners are so anxious to obtain.”

Having done all the preliminary work to start the scheme there was the small matter of getting it accepted and then trough Parliament. Binnie felt that it would not be a problem to get the water from Wales. His plan included building an aqueduct 192 miles from Garth to Boreham Wood, London. Water would travel by gravity, albeit this did mean some extensive tunnels through the Cotswolds. There would be a holding reservoir at Boreham Wood.

An investigation into the scheme was conducted into the scheme in 1896 and this was compared with an alternative scheme based around Staines. The latter scheme would have been cheaper to build but much dearer in the long term. London CC then appointed a Chemist William Dibdin to give a report on the state of the water coming from the Thames against that from Wales. He found that samples obtained from Wales at the end of the winter, as the water had been flushed by winter rains, from Wales were much better, but that this was an unfair comparison. He discovered that there was much politicking over control of the water by the water companies and this was underpinning the decisions being made. Despite this London CC recommended that it should go to the next stages.

The next stage would be to take the matter through Parliament where a Bill had to be prepared and subsequently voted on. At the same time that this was happening a Royal Commission had been set up to compare the water scheme that Binnie had prepared with the Staines scheme mentioned earlier.

Richard explained that the preparation of a Parliamentary Bill required a degree of accuracy that was found to be very challenging in this scenario. Many landowners across parts of Mid Wales were Welsh speaking and many had the same name. In a celebrated situation a John Jones was not given notice relating to one of his fields, and it was discovered on investigation that two different John Jones lived on 2 adjacent farms. Despite these difficulties, and alongside considerable stress across Wales, a Bill was prepared and received assent at its first reading. A growing concern that this was progressing before the Royal Commission had reported on its findings. The second reading was delayed and Binnie, in order to give the Bill a greater chance of succeeding, made some modifications to the scheme.  This meant moving the Irfon Dam further upstream and submerging Beulah and Abernant.

It was on the 29th March 1900 that the Bill was placed before Parliament for its second reading.  By this time the Royal Commission had reported and came out against the Binnie proposal. The tide had in fact turned and opposition to London CC had even turned in the Greater London area. The opposition in Wales had gained momentum as it was recognized that there were water needs for towns and Cities in South Wales that would be compromised by the scheme. The scheme was rejected by Parliament.

In discussion Richard Davies commented that: “If ever there was a justification for a ‘Free Welsh Army’, this was it.”

Geraint thanked Richard Rees for his ‘magnificent’ talk. It is fair to say that the research that Richard has undertaken in this matter has been thorough to a level that is quite outstanding. This write up only attempts to sketch through some of the detail that Richard has uncovered. Richard has written a small book on the subject, a copy of which is in our archives.

Shirley will be with us on the 3rd June to talk about the Insall Family and the birth of the Royal Flying Corps.

Penybont and District History Group Notes 1st April 2019 Main Topic: New Angles on Abbeycymhir – Roger Coward

Geraint welcomed members and one new member from Rhayader, Helen. Helen is new to the area and is keen to learn about the history and to meet people.

Geraint invited members to make announcements about local activity.

Trevor Powell made a passionate plea for members to support his on-line parliamentary petition on behalf the British Expeditionary Force who went to the defence of France during the 2nd World War. Their contribution and sacrifice has never been properly recognised and he has initiated this petition.

Sylvia has tickets for a Male Voice Choir who will be singing in the Hall on the 14th April.

Roger, today’s speaker, mentioned a talk being given my the Abbeycwmhir Heritage Trust on ‘Cwmhir and the Mortimers’ that will be at the Philips Hall in Abbeycwmhir on Thursday 4th April at 7.30 p.m.

Geraint then drew attention to the number of members who now had significant roles in the Radnorshire Society.

Geraint then introduced our speaker, Roger Coward, from the Abbeycwmbir Heritage Trust. Roger has done, with other members of the Trust, some very detailed work relating to the Abbey, and the Abbey, before it’s dissolution, in turn would have had a hugely significant impact on the surrounding area, including Penybont. Roger who is Chair of the Trust has published a book – Abbeycwmhir , and copies are available.

Main Topic: New Angles on Abbeycymhir

The Abbey at Cwmhir was a Cistercian Abbey, the daughter House of Whitland Abbey in Carmarthenshire and in turn the Mother House of Cymer Abbey in Gwenedd.

Roger opened his talk by asking a question about the reasons why people are keen to attend Local History sessions rather than join the Heritage Trust. Clearly the Trust is very active and has done a large amount of work on Abbeycwmhir but they were few in numbers. After some hesitation some members did say that they were a bit intimidated by the academic rigor of the Trust. Roger admitted that he was keen on the research side of the Trust’s work and did, as Chair, promote this side of the Trust’s activity.

Roger started his talk with some recent slides taken by drone that have exposed, within the embankment surrounding the Abbey, a possible grave. Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust CPAT are planning to do some exploratory work on the grave later this year. A 2010 photo shows the extent of the Abbey but it has been necessary to look at a drawing relating to St. Mary’s Abbey in York to get some idea of how the Abbey and the precincts gave the working environment for the Monk’s and their need to be self-sufficient.

This shows a:

Chapter House where meetings relating to the work of the Monks and the Community would be held and might include ecclesiastical courts.

Scriptorium & Library where the Monks might have written documents.

Monk’s Dorter or dormitory, sleeping quarters for the Monks.

Monk’s Frater, or dining room for Lay Brothers and Monks

Lay Brothers Quarters for the Un-ordained Brothers who worked the land, often referred to as ‘separate but equal’, unlike the Monks who had more ‘spiritual’ duties. The CPAT site:

Shows the suggested enclosure around the Abbey and the ridge and furrow areas within the precinct.

Roger then posed four questions for his talk:

  1. Why is the nave of the Abbey so long?
  2. Who built the Abbey?
  3. Which of the two suggested dates was it founded?
  4. Why is there no choir area?
  1. Why is the Abbey so long?

The abbey nave at Cymhir is extraordinarily long and is the longest Cistercian Abbey in Europe. Not just long in terms of Strata Florida and in Wales but long in terms of the national and even international perspectives.

The longest nave of a Gothic Abbey or Cathedral in the world is the Winchester Cathedral nave at about 170 meters. The nave at Abbeycwmhir is only marginally shorter than this. The nave in abbeys and cathedrals is often measured in ‘bays’:

Winchester has 10 bays; as does Westminster; Hereford Cathedral has 6 bays; and Strata Florida had 7. Abbey Cwmhir had a massive 14 bays. Why such a large Abbey was built in this part of Wales, and was probably never completed, remains a mystery. Maelienydd, as part of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, was strategically important to both the Welsh Princes and to the Marcher Lords. The Abbey may have been seen by both sides as making a statement about their power in the area.

Clearly the Abbey was built to make a major statement in the area. Maelienydd was quite strategically placed and would have been important to the Marcher Lords as well as the Welsh Princes. The Kings around this time were often preoccupied by their lands in France and even Spain and so they looked to the Marcher Lords to at least keep the Welsh Princes occupied so that they were not a threat to their interests on the English side of the Marches. The Abbey was built to have about 60 Monks and the King would have hoped that the power of the Church and Ecclesiastical Law would have helped in this regard. Equally Cadwallon ap Madog Llewelyn Fawr might well have had similar hopes and they would also have valued the prestige that this brought to Maelienydd.

In their research the Heritage Trust have drawn upon Monastic Chronicles, Cistercian History and more secular documents but these were all written some time after the building of the Abbey.   

  • Who built the Abbey?

As we approach this question it is worth thinking about Elystan Glodrydd who featured in our previous notes of 6th July 2015. We know how Elystan’s descendants have had an influence on so much of British and Welsh history. In exploring Abbeycwmhir we see his great grandsons playing a significant role, albeit there is still considerable debate about some of the specifics. Probably the most debated date is that of 1143. There are suggestions that an Abbey was started by Maredudd ap Madog, Prince of Maelienydd, and one of the great grandsons of Elystan and a cousin to Rhys ap Gruffudd (The Lord Rhys, King of Deheubarth), in 1143. Tradition suggests that this was at another site, Ty Faenor, about 1 mile east from where the Abbey was built in Cwmhir. What does appear to be more certain is that the Mortimers in 1144 gained the upper hand in Maelienydd and whatever had been achieved came to an end. Maredudd, it would appear, was killed by the Mortimers in 1146. Research into this starting point is unclear. There are documents that refer to considerations about building a church but what actually happened, if anything remains uncertain.

Maredudd’s brother, Cadwallon ap Madog, did however play a significant role and is regarded as the Founder of the Abbey. He was given charge of Maelienydd from Madog, his Father, with another brother Einion Clud having charge of Elfael. Gradually Cadwallon took control of the whole of Rhung Gwy a Hafren. One of Cadwallon’s bases was at Cymaron Castle. He built a number of Castles and it is thought that one of these might have been Crug Eryr, which is not far from Llandegley, and which featured in one of our History Group walks on 3rd July 2017.   Though no Charter has ever been found to consolidate the Founding of the Abbey it is widely accepted that Cadwallon started to build the first wooden Abbey at Cwmhir in 1176. The Abbey would have added to his ability to keep the Mortimers at bay. He was however killed by Roger Mortimer in 1179. Roger Mortimer was imprisoned by King Henry ll for his part in this crime.

The Abbeycwmhir Heritage Trust, within which Roger Coward is a key player, has an excellent article on Cadwallon.

Another interesting feature of Cadwallon was that he had supported Geraldus Cambrensis and it may have been that it was Cadwallon who rescued Geraldus when he locked himself in Llanbadarn Fawr Church. See our notes of 7th April 2014:

Roger Mortimer then held sway in Maelienydd until 1215 and the earliest known Charter was prepared by him in 1200, only discovered in 1956 when it was about to be turned into a lampshade. Intent on sweeping away any Welsh claims, he makes no mention of Cadwallon. The Abbey was clearly important to Roger Mortimer and he is one of the people who may have commenced building the stone Abbey at Cwmhir. The view of the Heritage Trust has moved towards Roger Mortimer having the best claim. The Charter gave to the monks considerable land adjacent to the Abbey and access to all common pasture throughout Maelienydd.

Fortunes turned back to the Welsh with the arrival of Llewellyn Fawr, Llewellyn the Great or indeed Llewellyn ab Iowerth. As the Prince of North Wales he became the dominant force across most of Wales and in that sense a true ‘Prince of Wales’. Llewellyn had married the illegitimate daughter of King John and this gave him some political advantage in his disputes with the Marcher Lords. Politically things were never straightforward as Llewelyn sided with those against the King and made King John sign the Magna Carta and begin the process of endorsing democracy and human rights. Llewelyn saw the Abbey as being advantageous to him and had plans to crown his son Dafydd as Prince of Wales. The building of the Abbey clearly overlapped with his time but whether he started the build or not remains disputed. This was a period of relative peace under Llewelyn albeit King Henry lll threatened to burn down the Abbey when the Abbott misdirected the King’s army into an ambush. Things changed quickly and in 1232 the King gave the Abbey a more generous writ of protection in an attempt to get them on his side against Llewelyn. In the same year the Pope intervened with the running of the Abbey when he gave it the right to administer the sacrament to local people due to the rurality of Cwmhir and the lack of Parish Churches. This was something that a Cathedral might do.

There is a third claim to who might have taken the initiative in building the stone Abbey. Some people would say that King John had the most to gain. King John became increasingly worried by the power that Llewelyn was gaining across Wales and it can be argued that it was the King who saw the Abbey as an opportunity to have a presence at this strategic point. In 1214 King John did take the Abbey into his possession and confirmed its status as an Abbey and extended the rights that the Abbey had over land and its activities.

The Welsh dominance of the area declined with the death of Llewelyn in 1240 and Mortimers were back in control. It was Ralph Mortimer who consolidated his tenure by building one of the Castles at Cefnllys. Though Ralph died in 1246 the Mortimer influence continued until 1262 when Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the ‘Last Prince of Wales’ brought took back control into Welsh hands. Llewelyn regained Cefnllys Castle in 1262. Having consolidated his position across most of Wales Llewelyn refused to attend the coronation of Edward l in 1274 and found himself excommunicated despite overtures to the Pope by the Abbot of Cwmhir Abbey not to do this. Disputes over the imposition of English Law over Welsh Law continued and in 1282 Llewelyn was killed near Builth. His head was taken to the King but where his body was taken is uncertain. Roger Coward thought that it was possible that bits could have been taken to different places as was common practice. One theory is that his body was taken by the Monks at Cwmhir and buried at the Abbey. This theory is uncertain due to his excommunicated status. A recent drone photograph has revealed a grave sized plot outside the precinct of the Abbey which has caused some interest and it is hoped to excavate this site and see who or what might be buried there. A Memorial Slate, Carreg goffa, to Llewelyn was been placed within the Abbey.

A ceremony is held each year on the 11th December, the date of his death, to commemorate the last true Prince of Wales.

  • Which of the two dates was the Abbey Founded? 1143 or 1176.

The Heritage Trust Study Group have delved into old documents to try and establish a definitive date for the Founding of the Abbey. Looking atr Monastic Chronicles the Annales Cambriae do not contain any reference to the Abbey in 1143, but documents relating to Gruffudd  ap Llewelyn Fawr in 1248 do mention this early date.  These documents were not originals and so the group decided that they could not be considered reliable. Within Cistercian History documents there is reference to 1143 in a document written by a Dutch Abbot, on 1642 a document gives both dates, 1143 and 1176, in 1877 another document also mentions both dates. William Dugdale in 1693, writing from a secular perspective, gives the date as 1143.

Roger would say that despite the many statements about 1143 the 1176 date is more credible.

  • Why is there no choir area?

This is another unresolved mystery. Normally the Choir area is the first area to be built for a new Abbey. It represents such a core spiritual activity for the Monks and therefore assumes a priority status. A recent drone photograph has shown the outline of a previously unknown building at the east end of the Abbey and this has opened up the possibility that this might be the room where the choir performed.

By 1282 Edmund Mortimer was back in charge and it was not until Owain Glyndwr came along in 1401 that the Abbey was ‘spoiled and defaced’. By this time the Abbey was seen as being part of the Mortimer’s Estate and loyal to the King.

It was Henry Vlll, in 1536/7, however who turned the Abbey into a ruin with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The work of the Heritage Trust is to try to find answers to the questions that have been raised about the Abbey. A new analysis of the hard stone used in the stone carvings that have been found has been commissioned and it is hoped that this might give some new insights into the riddles that exist within the history of Cwmhir Abbey.

Roger Coward then talked about some of the finds from the old Abbey. These include a stone Tympanum which was found at Home Farm and would have been originally over the Door of the Abbey. Like many of the stones found around the Abbey the Trust have initiated a project to make 3-D prints of these stones. In a more ambitious way, they are also appealing to landowners across the territory to bring stones that may have been taken from the Abbey to have them 3-Dprinted as well. It has been questioned as to why there is so little stone at the Abbey itself? It would appear that farmers from a wide area, and even locally to us in Penybont, took the stone for their own needs.

Mabli’s tomb lid, which has been discovered recently, has a very unusual type of writing. It says simply ‘Here lies Mabli, on whose soul be merciful’.

An example of the Common Seal of the Abbey, used in 1533, just before the Dissolution, has been found. It depicts the Virgin Mary holding the child Christ and is typical of Seals used by the Cistercians. The Seal is quite elaborate and contains the arms of France, England, Anne Mortimer, Richard of Cambridge, and the Duke of York.

Mentioned above, the Annales Cambriae did not refer to the founding of the Abbey but it would appear to have been written at the Abbey for about 8 years. Within it during these years there are many references to place names in the local area. For example, the is reference to Cefnllys in 1262 and Llewelyn ‘trudging through the snow’.

The Book, “Abbeycwmhir – History, Homes and People” that has been published by Abbeycwmhir Community Council is a brilliant source information on the Abbey and the Community of Abbeycwnhir.

Geraint thanked Roger for his excellent talk. The next session will be on Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May when Richard Rees will give us a talk on ‘The Dams that did not Happen’.

Penybont and District History Group Notes 4th March 2019 Main Topic: Friendly Societies and their Contribution to our Community – Dr Marion Evans

MGeraint welcomed another full house to this month’s gathering.

Before handing over to Marion he brought members’ attention to the up and coming meetings planned for the next few months.

In April, on April Fools Day, we will welcome Roger Coward who will be talking about the recent research into the history of Abbey Cwmhir. Abbey Cwmhir is just outside our district but it had enormous influence on the area as a whole.

On 6th May Richard Rees will talk about the Dams that did not happen in the area. This fascinating topic will explore what might have happened to Penybont and other local areas if plans that were drawn up had come to fruition.

Shirley will be presenting on the Insall Family and the history of the Royal Flying Corps, a subject that she ‘might or might not devote the rest of her life to’, on June 3rd.

Judy made a plea for any information, photos, etc., for her talk on Llanbadarn Fawr School. She has plenty of information from over 100 years ago, and from her own time at the school, but from 1919 the information in the Powys Archives cannot be released.

Derek said that he had been asked, or another member of the group, to talk to the Rhayader Local History Group about the Penybont Group. This group is being facilitated by Elan Heritage and Stephanie Cruise the Heritage Officer. The meeting will be on 2nd April at 7.30 p.m. at CARAD. Alan who has been to their meetings said that they did need some help. Maureen said she had modelled the Painscastle Group on Penybont and that this had worked very well. Geraint said that Brecknockshire had a group in almost every village but Radnorshire was just beginning to catch up. He felt that there were many ways for groups to run and be supported. He felt that Penybont was almost too small for a group going into the longer terms and it might be useful for villages to club together in the future.

Mary had her daughter home last week during half term and they visited the Penybont graveyard. They were particularly drawn to an unmarked grave of Mrs Cowley who had been evacuated to the village in the early part of the 2nd World War. She died in her first week in Penybont. When she was buried a promise was made to the family that there would be flowers on the grave as she had loved flowers so much. Mary and her daughter were delighted to see the grave a mass of snowdrops.

Main Topic – Friendly Societies and their contribution to our Community – Dr Marion Evans

  1. Marion started with a confession – this was not a topic of her choice. She would agree that historically Friendly Societies are of great interest but the research is largely about accounting and this in itself does not make for a great presentation!

However, Marion had done a considerable amount of research into the social position of Friendly Societies and she would then, in conjunction with Geraint, lead a discussion on how this applied, or might have applied, to the situation locally.

Friendly societies date back a long way but they began to play a more significant role in Victorian life from around 1830 onwards. They were/are mutual aid societies where people put money into the society in order to be able to take money out at times of need. The primary needs were an insurance against burial costs, sickness, child birth, pension. Friendly societies became popular in village life before there was a welfare state to support people but these positive benefits have to be seen against the challenges within small communities to manage the bookkeeping.

Poor Law and the Workhouse

In earlier times the monasteries were responsible for giving aid to the poor of the country but when Henry VIII dissolved them this source of aid came to an end and there was a noticeable increase in poverty with people found begging and homeless.

In 1601, in the reign of Elizabeth 1, a Poor Law was passed making each Parish responsible for the poor in its own area through the imposition of a Poor Law Rate. It was not long before people realised that some Parishes were richer than others and this led to considerable migration to these richer Parishes. In 1662 a Settlement Act tried to deal with this and made Parishes responsible for people who were born in their Parishes. Pauper relief was largely mitigated by expecting people to work. If visitors to a Parish had not shown sufficient industry within 40 days they could be sent away. In 1697 the Law required visitors to a Parish to show a ‘settlement certificate’ showing the Parish that had responsibility for their welfare.

Alongside the management of the Poor by labour the Workhouse Test Act 1723 gave Parishes responsibility for establishing Workhouses for people who were less able to work, people who were ill, elderly, and children. However, workhouses were often too expensive for single parishes to afford. Neither Presteigne nor Rhayader built on under this act. There was one in Kington but the governess there was noted as being incapable of maintaining control of the unruly inmates!

The Poor Law Rate was set and managed through the Vestry in each Parish. Some Parishes were clearly much wealthier than others. Poor Parishes often meant that the money raised was insufficient to cater for the needs of the Poor. There were other anomalous challenges in the management of the rates. A story that had emerged from Rhayader than considered the needs of two women with very similar backgrounds and requirements. One woman received significantly more than the other. When asked why this was the case it emerged that one woman would shout louder and make a scene and so she was given more to keep her quiet.

There were particular pressures by the middle of the 18th century. There was a significant rise in the population combined with rising food prices as a result of the French Wars; enclosures were taking place depriving people of the means for subsistence living; and changes were taking place on farms with early mechanisation; and improved fodder crops: – such that less labour was needed.

One of the most significant changes came as a result of the increasing availability of the humble potato. More children survived as a result of this availability and this drove the increase in the population. In some parts of Britain these extra mouths were soaked up by the early industrial revolution, but research shows that this was not the case in Radnorshire where a permanent cadre of unemployed began to build up. This put extra pressure on the poor rate and provided an extremely low standard of living for the unemployed. This was amplified by the fact that working men were often paid part of their salary by being allowed to grow a few rows of potatoes on the farmer’s land. Once they lost their jobs, even this small form of nutrition was lost to them.

 If families could no work they were in deep crisis. Sometimes Parishes that had no work available for the Poor would agree with a neighbouring Parish to give people work. The alternative was the workhouse. But as noted, only Knighton built one in this area – and it was described as riotous!

Emphasis on the Workhouse as the solution to the problem of poverty became more extreme following a Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws in 1832 that led to the New Poor Law of 1834. Interestingly the Chair of the Commission was Thomas Frankland Lewis, who had been M.P. for Radnorshire. The focus of the Commission’s investigation was to cut the costs associated with the Old Poor Law of 1601. The Commission put the emphasis on the Workhouse and away from expecting the Poor to work for landowners.  It is perhaps interesting to note that in contrast to cut costs in this situation, it was Thomas Franklin Lewis who had complained so bitterly about the cost of the tolls between his home in New Radnor and Hereford.

Friendly Societies

Alongside this Poor Law system people planned to offset the risks common to many people and to avoid falling into the Poor Law system. Friendly Societies evolved to provide mutual support by insuring against sickness, child birth, and old age.

Some of the early Friendly Societies in this area were:

Knighton 1787

Nantmel 1787

Presteigne 1805

Rhayader and Llansainffread Cwmtoyddwr 1824

It would appear that most had an association with a Public House in their area. They generally covered quite a small area and therefore were vulnerable to going bust. Actuarial tables were not available to the people running them and this also led to their vulnerability. The factor that began to increasingly put them under pressure evolved as young members, (the average age of the members who set them up was just 32 years), got older and the demands on the funds increased.

Penybont Friendly Society

New Friendly Society of Rhayader and Llansantffraid Cwmdauddwr was the largest in the area by 1906, but the Society in the Penybont area had 466 members.

Penybont Friendly Society Banner

“This painted silk banner was made by George Tutill.”

The information given within this website is:

“In 1879 the society had 466 members and £1,928 in funds. The Society was dissolved in May 1885 and a branch of the Ancient Order of Foresters was formed in shortly afterwards Description

Established on 1 September 1826, members of this Friendly Society paid a shilling a month into the funds. They could pay additional contributions to cover the costs of meals. They could also receive fines of sixpence for cursing, being indecent in dress, being rude, noisy or drunk and for divulging society business to non-members.

The most important event of the year was the “club feast “, which was held in Pen-y-bont every May.”

The Friendly Society Movement represented a huge change in the way assistance was provided to people in need. The ideas of self help were considered to be a very positive move by the ‘establishment’ or Ruling Classes. They were also viewed with suspicion by the same people as employers. While it was good to see the working classes taking responsibility for their own welfare, this coming together of the labour market was seen as the possible beginning of Trade Unionism and they did not want that.

The Poor Law Act of 1834, as discussed above, led to a significant increase in the number of Friendly Societies but by the turn of the 20th century and a number of Acts these small societies at parochial level gave way to larger more national bodies. In the 1895 Act the Societies and their activities were defined as:

“societies for the purpose of providing by voluntary subscriptions of the members thereof, with or without the aid of donations, for the relief or maintenance of the members, their husbands, wives, children, fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters, nephews or nieces, or wards being orphans, during sickness or other infirmity, whether bodily or mental, in old age, or in widowhood, or for the relief or maintenance of the orphan children of members during minority; for insuring money to be paid on the birth of a member’s child, or on the death of a member, or for the funeral expenses of the husband, wife, or child of a member, or of the widow of a deceased member, or, as respects persons of the Jewish persuasion, for the payment of a sum of money during the period of confined mourning; for the relief or maintenance of the members when on travel in search of employment or when in distressed circumstances, or in case of shipwreck, or loss or damage of or to boats or nets; for the endowment of members or nominees of members at any age; for the insurance against fire to any amount not exceeding £15 of the tools or implements of the trade or calling of the members”

This is taken from:

This article gives an in-depth insight into how legislation evolved during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as recorded by the Encyclopaedias Britannica in 1911.

As we move into the 20th century the small societies died out and were replaced by larger and national societies such as the Foresters.

Some of the smaller societies grew out of particular areas of common ground. There were Temperance Societies, and Maureen was able to tell us about a Welsh Language Friendly Society in Painscastle that was formed in 1846. This only survived a few years but it is interesting to note that the Welsh Language was still spoken in Painscastle in the middle of the 19th century.

In many ways the Friendly Societies modelled themselves on the Free Masons. They were ‘secret societies’, they had handshakes, and other rituals. There was regalia and banners, as seen above for Penybont.  Even their names mirrored the Masons – The Ancient Order of Foresters was formed in Rochdale in 1834. The making of banners and other regalia could be expensive – banners in the region of £30 – and this led to criticism about how money was managed.

There was definitely a social element sometimes leading to riotous behaviour.

“All who are familiar with friendly societies know very well that they mean   a   great   deal   more   than   the   mere   payment   of   certain   premiums and  the  reception  in  time  of  need  of  certain  equivalent  benefits.    They know  that  they  are  clubs  in  another  sense  of  the  word  also.    The name is associated in their  minds  with  bands  and  banners,  and  processions  with  scarves  and  rosettes,  with  public  house  dinners  and  all  their  natural  concomitants.    Too  often  the  Club-day in a village means a day of drunkenness, a day on which respectable people shut up their houses and keep indoors, or take the opportunity of paying a visit to friends at a distance”

In Penybont the Friendly Society would gather at the Severn Arms on their ‘feast day’ in May and they would march under the banner to Llandegley Church. After a service they would march back to the Severn Arms. Percy Severn might be there for the meal but would withdraw to allow the riotous behaviour to take over.

Even in later times the Foresters and Oddfellow Societies would hold a ‘bash-up’ at Crystal Palace where they might host 70,000 people. According to Marion a certain amount of canoodling went on.

As we look ahead to the beginnings of the Welfare State, Friendly Societies would consult a panel of Doctors, and the larger societies would have such panels all over the Country. The Doctors would advise in health matters and ascertain whether someone claiming to be ill and unfit for work was really ill. The downside to this was that the Societies wanted to protect their funds and would often dispute the Doctors’ opinions.

Another downside for some people was the need to pay their dues every month. This could in some instances lead to debt, and debt could lead to fines and a vicious circle. There was nothing for people in this self-help system of they could not pay their dues.

Most societies were entirely male but a small number of women’s societies did come into existence, some in South and West Wales where there were some ‘independent women’.  There is an article on ‘The Fraternity of Female Friendly Societies’ at:

“Although the  returns made following a survey of friendly societies in 1803–04 are inaccurate in  regard  to  women’s  societies  (which  were  not  always  distinguished  from  those  for  men)  Bohstedt  noted  that  6000  of  the  9000  women  in female friendly societies in 1803 lived in towns where riots occurred. He Daniel Weinbren concluded that while the men were turning to more quiescent political activities, the female societies may have served as ‘a source for cohesion in riots.”

So, while Friendly Societies increased in number throughout the 19th century the concerns over the administration by these small organisations led to consolidation and one or two of the Societies began to absorb the smaller groups and as we move into the 20th century the Foresters, Oddfellows had become national organisations with the ability to manage their investments and liabilities in a much more professional way. This professionalism had a significant side effect in that some people became employed locally and even developed careers within these organisations that took them out of poverty. The Friendly Society Acts of 1875 and 1895 consolidated these trends, and this led to more regulated insurance opportunities including Old Age Pensions and Child Welfare insurance. An Article in the Times in 1889, written by a London Coroner criticised child welfare insurance suggesting that parents might maltreat or neglect their children to get insurance pay-outs!

There was also a growing governmental interest in Friendly Societies in the latter part of the 19th century following the Crimean War. The need to recruit troops to fight on behalf of the Crown highlighted the very poor health of the nation. Alongside the increasing population, brought about partly by potatoes, the nation’s died was extremely poor.

The beginnings of a Welfare State emerged in 1911 with the National Insurance Act and some friendly societies, alongside Trade Unions, and commercial Insurers became Approved Societies in the administration of the funds obtained through employers being required to pay into the insurance fund.

A Punch Cartoon of the time indicates some ambivalence about the Act:

‘Patient (General Practitioner) “This treatment will be the death of me.”

Doctor Bill “I dare say you know best. Still there is always a chance”’

Beveridge had a somewhat romantic view of Friendly Societies as fostering brotherhood and self-help but as the 20th century progressed things were changing and although even in 1942 Beveridge seemed to be supporting the voluntary status of Friendly Societies in the administration of National Insurance their status as Approved Societies was removed in 1943 and in 1944 the National Health Service was proposed and came into being in 1948.

Marion rounded off her talk by reminding members that it is often thought that National Insurance Contributions go to the Poor, but this is a misunderstanding, as it never did work that way.

  • Geraint thanked Marion for her comprehensive survey of Friendly Societies and the huge amount of research that she had done. Marion and Geraint then together opened up a discussion about how this impacted on people in Radnorshire and in Penybont.

As we have seen from above the Society in Penybont was formed in 1826 and by 1879 had 466 members. It followed the national pattern with the Society being dissolved in 1885 leading to a Foresters group being established.

There were about 15 Societies in the area and in Presteigne, the New Friendly Society had 300 members. The Penybont Society clearly drew people from a wide geographical area. What is remarkable is that in an area where there was not great wealth that in order to avoid the challenges of Poor Law administration that so many people were able to may the 1 shilling a month dues but they could also face fines for:


Being indecently dressed


Being Noisy

Being Drunk

Divulging secrets of the Society to non-members

A comment was made this could be seen as a fine for ‘living’!

A newspaper report of 1876 commended the Society for its membership of 430 members. Having assembled at the Severn Arms members marched to Llandegley Church for a Service. The members then marched back to the Severn Arms for the annual Feast. J.P. Severn addressed the meeting and gave £463 for the death and sickness fund. One can only speculate that it was after Percy Severn withdrew that the fun and games began! These annual events were quite significant in the area. The Schools would be closed. They had a status similar to other days such as the Agricultural Fairs.

Geraint was able to give us an example of how people benefitted from the Society. A lady, Hannah Jenkins, who paid in 1 shilling a month for her dues but she then had payments of 10 shillings when a child was born in 1864; 10 shillings for another child in 1865; and £1 for her husband’s burial in 1866.

Neil was able to tell us of his relative Evan Richards who was a member of Foresters for 54 years when he died in 1943.

  • Girls Friendly Societies

Discussion moved on with some photographs, see below, supplied by Joy of the Girls Friendly Society in New Radnor. Though they use the same terminology Girls Friendly Societies had nothing to do with Friendly Societies as we have discussed above.

Concerned by the plight of young women and girls leaving home to work in-service and in urban factories Mary Elizabeth Townsend officially established Girls Friendly Society on 1st January 1875 with the support of the Anglican Church. At the start girls could join by the age of 12 years but this was reduced to 8 years in 1882 when girls were allowed to be associate members.

There were some similarities to the Friendly Societies above in that they encouraged mutual support amongst the girls. Elizabeth Townsends main focus was on prevention, she said:

‘When we see what wonders are accomplished in worldly matters, by the power of organisation, association, and cooperation, when we know how strong are the links that bind together the members of Freemasons’ Clubs, of Benefit Societies, the members of different professions, and the like, surely we cannot but feel that this mighty lever should be used for the purpose of moral and spiritual benefit, that the children of this world should not be wiser in their generation than the children of light, and that every means should be tried, if only we may, by God’s mercy and blessing, save some.’

An important element of the Societies work was in proving hostel accommodation. One of these was located in Ithon Road in Llandrindod Wells and it was run by Miss Partridge.

Joy remembers that the Society in New Radnor was linked to the Church, it was run by a Mrs Griffiths, and she particularly remembers a train trip to Swansea.

More locally Geraint asked Judy to talk about her experience of the local group at Llanbadarn Fawr. Her most vivid memory was making rabbits out of some blue material.

Shirley remembers meeting regularly at the church and she remembered that Geraint had a hand in running it. Geraint could remember the three ladies sitting together Judy, ……. All those years ago sitting making rabbits and sitting together just like today!

Liz had been involved in setting up a group in Worcestershire.

  • Old Poor Law in Radnorshire

Marion brought us back to reflecting on the Old Poor Law and how this impacted on the people of Radnorshire. In 1740 Radnorshire had the highest illegitimacy rate in Britain. In Wales the rate was 1 child in every 13, in Radnorshire it was 1 child in every 7. This on its own had an impact on the Poor Law Rate. The reasons for the high illegitimacy rate are uncertain but there is some suggestion that there was a courtship practice in this part of Wales known a ‘bundling’, caru ar [or yn] y gwely, or ‘love on [or in] the bed. 

Bundling entailed a young couple spending an evening, and frequently an entire night, together, unsupervised, in bed, typically in the home of the young woman. If and when the woman conceived, marriage was the expected outcome.’

This practice could have been a type of ‘trial marriage’ but in some cases it led to children being born out of wedlock.

From about 1837 onwards, for unknown reason, the illegitimacy rate began to fall.

Geraint took us back to the humble potato which can be challenging in the poor soil conditions in Radnorshire. It was however a crop that would grow and give reasonable yields. While this did not give poorer people a healthy died, and there was much malnutrition, poorer people were often given access to a land to grow a row of potatoes. This even applied to Vicars. Geraint remembers when he first came to Llanbadarn Fawr Church that the Griffiths family at Church Farm told him that it was traditional for Vicars of the Church to cultivate a row of potatoes on their land. As a result, Geraint did have his own row on their farm.

Marion reinforced her previous concerns that the enclosures put a stop to this practice.

Liz had researched experiences in Worcestershire where illegitimacy had a link to the lack of housing and it was often only when housing became available that the marriage would go ahead. In Radnorshire there was a shortage of housing and to avoid financial penalties a couple might not declare the name of the father until they were ready to marry. In a more general sense, the feeling that comes through is that illegitimacy in Radnorshire in the 18th and early 19th centuries did not carry the stigma that came along in the Victorian era, and the word ‘bastard’ similarly did not carry stigma with it.

Reference was made to the Mr Wilding looking at the Severn Arms with a view to Managing it and recording in his diary that it ‘seemed like a good place’ and that ‘he would talk to his girlfriend about the accommodation there and maybe ‘they could now get married’.

In the closing minutes there was reference to family situations only a few generations back whose lives reflected the challenges of child birth and experiencing an accident that made working impossible. Marion finished by saying how a man living in Llandegley, quite well with 8 hounds, was claiming from the Poor Law Rate but as he was born in Llanbister the Llanbister Parish had to pay for him.

It had been an excellent session and Geraint thanked Marion again for preparing such an interesting talk.

The next meeting will feature Roger Coward who will be talking on the Recent Research into Abbey Cwmhir on 1st April 2019.