Notes of 11th July 2016 Meeting Main Topic – Walk to Penybont Hall Heronry and Sideland Nature Reserve, Cwmroches

Members assembled at the Thomas Shop for Coffee and announcements before setting off to meet Richard Morgan at Penybont Hall

Geraint welcomed everyone with special mention of Daniel MacIntosh who has joined us for the first time.

Derek referred to two contacts, with historical links to the village that were made over the last month.

  1. Keith Martin, now in his 80s, was an evacuee during the 2nd World War. He and his mother initially left London for The Gower but soon discovered that German pilots would off load any unused bombs, that were meant for Swansea, on The Gower. They then found their way to Penybont where they settled in Ithon Terrace. Before becoming a broadcaster and pioneer DJ for Radio Caroline Keith had some very fond memories of his time in Penybont. The stories he recounted tended to feature the Thomas Family and the Chapel where his abiding memory was of ‘Hell Fire and Damnation’. He remembered Mary’s mother, Mrs Worth, running a small school for evacuees, and including a few village children, in the parlour, which is now my office. He had a soft spot for Jack and the chicken farm. One of the chicken sheds was converted into a playroom and he seemed to remember Jack meeting his mother there.
  2. An email was received from a Jeannie Elgar who wrote to say that her Gt. Gt. Grandfather, Thomas Davies (1820 – 1903), was gamekeeper at Penybont Hall, and subsequently became Head Gamekeeper for the Severn Estates. Thomas Davies is buried in the graveyard at Llanbadarn Fawr Church and he is mentioned in the book on the Church by Rev. Albert Jordon. She had a particular interest in trying to find a photograph of Thomas Davies. – Enquires at Penybont Hall have not been fruitful but Richard would be happy to meet Jeanie.

Geraint mentioned that the next meeting will be a reporting meeting bringing together the activities of members:

  • Judy Dennison – Narratives from older members of our community
  • Lynda Price – Photographs of Community Life
  • Jenny Bowman – Archives Llandegley School

Geraint asked members to consider volunteering to mount an exhibition of local history on display panels.

Richard Morgan met us at Penybont Hall. As he had damaged his leg he introduced us to Carlton Parry who, as a keen environmentalist and ornithologist would guide us through the woods at Penybont Hall to the Heronry.

Carlton, who lives in Kington, is actively involved in conservation across Powys and wider afield. He is a bird ringer at Llangorse and helps to track the numbers of species and birds that frequent and visit the area.

He started with a couple of happenings he had encountered in the last few hours. He had shot a grey squirrel and left it lying on his lawn and within a very few minutes a red kite had swooped down and taken it. Also in rummaging through his boot he had come across a dead ‘yellow underwing moth’, which is just as described on the tin. To the question – What do they eat? Carlton was able to look it up to find that they ate a wide range of herbage including brassica and docks.

Carlton mentioned that the Herons would have finished raising their chicks by now and that it might be a good idea to plan a walk next year 6 weeks or so earlier. His other concern was that for reasons unknown the herons do not appear to have made use of the heronry this year. The walk through the wood was delightful with lots of bird song to identify, at least for the discerning few.

As we walked through the grounds of the Hall and into the woodland our auditory senses became aroused to the bird calls that were all around us. These were a group of tits. Carlton explained that with the breeding and chick raising finished the tits come together for safety and to forage, and would include Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits.

The birds that would have been nesting in the woods would include:

Wood Warbler; Willow Warbler; Chiffchaff; Blackcap; Spotted Flycatcher; Gold Crest; Wren; Robin

As we looped around to turn back towards the Hall we could see a number of very tall conifers that were set back from the path. Carlton was able to find the remains of one nest very high up in one of these trees. Carlton was at a loss to know why the Herons had not used the heronry this year. He thought they might have found an alternative site nearby. He is also involved in ringing herons in a woodland adjacent to the Royal Welsh Showground. They have nested there as usual. He is hopeful that they might return again to Penybont next year as there are still many herons in the area. He encouraged the group plan a visit for May next year.

There was discussion about the frequent visits to the village by Egrets. There seemed to be a breeding pair here this year. He said that with global warming they can be found more and more across Wales. They nest in the ‘middle’ storey below the herons. The first egret in the area was spotted at Bryn Thomas about 20 years ago.

Ringing the herons is quite a task with people being winched up, these huge trees, collecting the young birds, and then abseiling down. They then had to repeat  the process and return the young birds as quickly as possible to their nest.

Attention was drawn to a gold crest that was singing away, and then to a wren.

A question about whether nightingales might be in the area. Carlton said that the last sighting of a nightingale was at Fownhope in Herefordshire during the 1970s.

Geraint thanked Carlton for his excellent ramble through the wood and looked forward to the possibility of following this walk up with one a bit earlier in the year, perhaps May next year.

We then walked up from the end of the lane past the Hall to Cwmroches Farm. Turning down the lane into the farm we crossed through some fields and found ourselves outside Sideland where Radnorshire Wildlife have a sign welcoming visitors to this ancient woodland. A ramble around this woodland is worth an hour of anyone’s time. We were a little late in the season for the best of the wild flowers but one of the features that drew our attention was the pollarded trees that had clearly been cut at a height that protected the young shoots from grazing cattle.

Radnorshire Wildlife encourage people to visit Sideland for the ancient trees that include older dead decaying elms that give way to, and harbour, a wide diversity of invertebrates, mosses and lichens.

The understorey of blackthorn and hazel encourage many species of bird life, flowers, which would also be better seen in May. The Ordinance Reference Number is: SO104638. See:  http://www.rwtwales.org/reserves/sideland

There is no meeting of the History Group in August so our next meeting will be at the Thomas Shop at 10.30 a.m. on Monday 5th September 2016.

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Notes of 6th June 2016 Meeting Main Topic – A History of the Decline of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire – Dai Hawkins

Geraint welcomed everyone, and particularly Freda who was attending for the first time. Freda comes from Watford.

In thinking about people who were not able to attend special mention was made of Marion who has broken her leg.

He reminded members about the Heronry walk which will now be on 11th July.

For those who had not been able to go Geraint spoke eloquently about the finding of a house in the ancient settlement at Caertwch on the Common. There is a danger that he might move in soon, if he can find it again under all the grass.

Derek gave his usual apology for being late with notes but they have now been posted.

As Mary and Richard are on holiday, he then introduced Dai Hawkins our speaker for today on the topic: The Decline of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire.

Dai initially made reference to a two day Conference of the Radnorshire Society that will be held at Cwrt Hergest on the 25th/26th June – Welsh Poets and Scholars and their Patrons between Wye and Severn 1300 – 1600.

Dai’s talk is based upon a talk that he previously gave at the National Library and that was following two articles that can be seen in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Radnorshire Society Transactions.

Dai started by addressing the extraordinary relationship that exists between Radnorshire and the rest of Wales. A friend arrived at a B&B in London where he was greeted by a woman from Aberyswyth who asked him where he had come from. He said he had come from Radnorshire, to which he was asked: “Did you have a good voyage?”

There is something of a ‘black hole’ when it comes to the history of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire. As the people of North Wales were often stereotypically referred to as ‘Gogs’ the people in this area were often seen as ‘elvish’. They were unreal and a fantasy people – they do not really exist!

The scholar, linguist and pioneer of St Fagan’s Museum, Ffransis Payne did of course live in Llandegley – in fact he lived in Jane’s house which at the time had a flat roof, which according to Neil leaked regularly. Ffransis, in the 1960’s wrote a book in Welsh entitled “Exploring Radnorshire”. Dai was very grateful to the Radnorshire Society for publishing in the 2008 and 2009 Transactions his translation of the book. In the 2013 and 2014 editions of Transaction Dai has also written Part one and Part two of “History of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire”. (I suspect that Part three will be in the 2015 edition?)

As Ffransis Payne ‘explored Radnorshire’ he commented on the use and decline of the Welsh language. In the 2008 edition, Part one, he starts his journey in what is now Hereford, and explores the evidence of Welsh culture that can still be found in this ancient part of what had been Radnorshire. In the early part of Part two (2009) he is to be found wandering through Penybont from Dolau, he crosses Rhos Swydd Common, into Penybont and then proceeds up through Llandegle and on to the Pales where he comments on the decline of the Welsh language.

He refers to a Lewis Morris who visited Penybont in the middle of the eighteenth century who had commented on the quality of the Welsh spoken by the children. It was clear to Lewis Morris that the children were in fact bilingual. He mentions that many of the children, were at this time, no longer first language Welsh speakers.

Dai told us of an outburst of civil disorder in Rhayader in the Congregational Chapel on Bridge Street in 1851 over the use of the Welsh language between the older and younger generations. In Penybont the tradition for the Welsh Language in the Calvinistic Methodist Church was not followed in the early part of the 20th century.

From around 1830 there was a recognisable challenge to the old order of Welsh being spoken by grand-parents, to the bilingualism of the parents, and then a further move away from Welsh altogether by the children.

Importantly the area known as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren (Between the Severn and the Wye) got split up in the Act of Union 1542/3. The new administrative area, Maesyfed or Radnorshire had lost Ceri (Kerry) to Montgomeryshire, Clun and parts of what is now Shropshire, as well as Kington and area to Herefordshire. In the south west it lost the area around Builth to Brecknockshire. At this time Welsh would have been the language spoken throughout the whole of this area. The change brought about through the Act of Union was a major blow to the Welsh language and the decline seems to have gradually spread west across the whole of the County from that time. By 1700 it had reached the new border between Wales and England. Ffransis Payne on reaching the Pales refers to the implications of the Quaker school and the educational side effect of its impact on spoken Welsh from around 1712. By 1866 an Englishman, William Knowles, was appointed as the head of the school. By the middle of the 19th century the decline had reached Rhayader, and by the turn of this century the Welsh language had retreated from all but a few parts of the County.

Dai referred to work that his wife had undertaken on the history of the Welsh language. Before she unfortunately died of cancer she had been a strong support an advocate for the cultural history and identity of Wales.

Tracing the history of the language of today is complex and to some extent controversial as there are very few texts before the Romans arrived to give a clear understanding about the different influences that have given rise to what we now call Cymraeg.

The earliest influences on language began as the last ice age made Britain suitable for human habitation and there was migration of hunter gatherer groups from Europe during the 9th millennium BC – Mesolithic period. Very little if anything is known about the languages of this period and how they impacted on each other.

During the Neolithic period 7000 BC –  2000 BC archaeologists have been able to piece together more information on the culture of the more settled farming communities from the quantities of pottery that have been found. Two main strands of language developed the Uralic Languages of Northern Europe that underpin Finnish and Hungarian; and the Indo-European Languages that include Sanskrit, the Germanic Languages, and the Celtic languages. An early form of Celtic language (Proto-Celtic) was probably spoken during the  Bronze Age (from about 1250 BC) There would appear to be two branches within the Celtic groups:- i. Goidelic and ii. Brythonic. It is from the Brythonic group that Welsh emerges, whereas Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic are linked through Goidelic.  A Common-Brythonic language was spoken across England Wales and Southern Scotland at the time of the Roman invasions. Latin did have some influence on the language at this time but it was the coming of the Saxons that heralded the use of the English Language which came through the Gaels and Germanic cultures from the 5th century. By the 11th century the Brythonic languages had disappeared from most of England other than Cornwall.

In the 5th century the Brythonic people had either migrated to Brittany or they had been pushed into Wales. At about this time the language underwent some significant changes and what emerged is the Welsh Language in its primitive form. Unfortunately there are no written records of Welsh from this period. What is now known as Old Welsh is the language spoken in the middle of the 8th century. The earliest written text from the 8th century is written on the Tywyn Stone.

As we enter the Middle Welsh period in the 12th century there is Book of Llandaff, written in Old Welsh, and drawing from material back in the 6th century, but it was in the Middle Welsh period that we begin to learn more of the bardic tradition that has long been part of Welsh cultural life. This was a largely oral tradition and the manuscripts that appear at this time in Middle Welsh tell of earlier times. The Laws of Hywel Dda, Taliesin, and the Mabinogion were created long before 12TH Century but were not in manuscript form that has survived until later centuries.

It was however the Historia Regum Brittanniae, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and that gave rise to the Arthurian legends, that had most influence on the culture of Mid Wales as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.  In a twist of fate it was these very legends, and their association with Rhung Gwy a Hafren, that brought my wife and I to Penybont in the first place. A Hungarian Architect, Imre Makovez, was asked by the Prince of Wales to create a building for an exhibition in London. He, Imre, did not want the building to remain in London and had asked that it should find a home in the Arthurian country Rhwng Gwy a Hafren. When the exhibition was cancelled Liz brought Imre and his wife to the area for a week as consolation. Liz fell in love with the area and the rest is history.

Getting back to Dai and the story telling of the bards he told about the time when Einion Clud, son of Elystan Glodrydd, was resident a Crug Eyryr. He met with Gregory of Wales and Archbishop Baldwin at New Radnor and signed up for the Third Crusade. When he got back home the next day with his distinguished guests his wife had persuaded him not to go on the Crusade. This probably cost him a heavy fine but Einion had an unfortunate end when he took part in a jousting tournament and, having defeated Roger Mortimer convincingly, Roger Mortimer was not at all happy about this and ambushed, with others, Einion on this way back to Crug Eyryr, when Einion was killed.

On page 89 of 2014 edition of Radnorshire Transactions Dai has a map showing the many homes of the patrons of the Welsh Bards in the period from 1000 to 1600 AD across Radnorshire. The Bards were people of status in Wales, their status was equivalent to that of their patrons. They would travel on horseback across the hilltops where travelling was easier to visit the homes of their patrons. The Bards or Poets gave richness to the oral traditions of Welsh culture that give rise to and are carried on in the Eisteddfods of today.

More factual information about the Welsh language can be obtained from the Court records and also the records of the visits of the Bishop of Hereford. From these we can say that, despite attempts to colonise Radnorshire in the 14th century the area of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren was almost 100% Welsh speaking. The English speakers were mainly in the towns and even here the numbers showed a significant decline.

In the following two centuries the Bards chronicled the lives of their patrons and the Welsh culture. It is interesting to note that a fifth of all the material recorded by the Bards related to Radnorshire.

The decline in the language that followed the Act of Union as chronicled above is punctuated by the fact that the last Eisteddfod to be held in Radnorshire was in 1777, but there was still enough Welsh being spoken for William Thomas in Penybont to advertise the Central Wales Emporium with a poster in Welsh sometime around 1900.

My attempts to learn Welsh have faltered and I cannot do justice the Dai’s talk on the dialect of Welsh that was/is spoken in Radnorshire. He spoke of his concerns that the new wave of Welsh speaking that is coming out of the schools is a more standard, even correct, Welsh, and is mainly being spoken by ‘incomers’ more that the indigenous population in Radnorshire. His ability however to articulate the dialect was remarkable and it is to be hoped that he can instil his passion for the language of Radnorshire in others.

Geraint thanked Dai for his excellent talk.

The next meeting will be for the walk on Monday 11th July for the walk to the Heronry and on to Cwmroches. Members are asked to meet at the Thomas Shop for coffee and then we will start the walk from there.