Penybont and District Local History Group Notes 5th June 2017 at the Thomas Shop Main Topic: Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire – Andy Johnson

Geraint started by welcoming Andy and Karen Johnson, of Logaston Press, and thanking them in particular for the contribution that they had made to the history and culture of the local area by publishing an extraordinarily rich set of books.

He then welcomed 2 new members:

Rita who he had not seen in years, remembering her as a ‘little girl’, she now lives in Bishop’s Castle – ‘Welcome home!’

He then welcomed Sharon Mills from Cefn Bronllys Farm, Llanddewi. Sharon was originally from Knighton, and teaches part-time in Newtown.

Geraint then turned his attention to the ‘leasehold acquisition of the cupboard in the Laundry, at the Thomas Shop, which will now formally be available for the sole use of the History Group. He went on to announce to the assembled members, and in front of Rosemary, his wife, that she is formally required, at the ‘end of his day’, to re-locate the piles documents, and other materials, in the said cupboard. Neil Hilliard asked about cataloguing and found himself volunteered to head a team of archivists to catalogue the contents of the cupboard! Elizabeth Newman agreed to assist on team. The suggestion that ‘Neil R’ should assist was formally rejected by Geraint saying that: “While there were many things that Neil could assist with, this was not one of them!” Neil’s response was: “And you were once a vicar!”

Mary was asked if she had any matter to bring to the meeting, and she said she was particularly looking forward to trying out the ‘walks’ in Andy’s book and getting some exercise.

Derek then proceeded to confuse everyone about the proposed walk for next month, explaining that having chosen, with Ginny and Maureen, a suitable sunny afternoon to do a ‘recce’, the heavens opened and they only managed to visit the Castel Crug Eryr site. The plan for Monday 3rd July is to meet for coffee at 10.00 a.m. at the Thomas Shop, when all will hopefully be made clear, and then proceed to the beginning of the walk by car.

Main Topic: Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire Andy Johnson

Andy started by saying that he would say something about the history of the Logaston Press before going on to talk about the specific book – ‘Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire’.

He explained that from a very early age he had had a dream of finding a derelict farm and ‘doing it up’. At the age of 13 he visited Herefordshire, from his home in the south-east, and immediately thought that this would be the place where he might one day fulfil his dream. And so it happened, in his mid-twenties he sold a property in the south-east and acquired, from Mr. Jones, a cottage with some ground at Logaston. All the advice he had been given from his friends about taking on the farming life was: “Don’t do it!” But he did it anyway. He decided to ‘have a go’. Living in Herefordshire he quickly became interested in the history of the area and, in walking through the beautiful countryside, he started to explore. The difficulty was that there were almost no books that linked the history and walking. Sitting in a cold building in winter evenings in front of an open fire he started to research, and make notes. Talking to the people in Almeley he became aware that hardly anyone had any idea about how to read a map, and that footpaths in the County were very poor. And so a book emerged; ‘Walks & More; a Guide to the Central Welsh Marches’, 1985.  He knocked it out on an old typewriter, and found a printer in Worcester. Marketing the book became frustrating, and writing to publishers did not elicit any responses, so Logaston Press was formed. People started to hear of Logaston Press and approach him with ideas, including Geoffrey Hodges, a history teacher from John Beddoes School. Logaston Press began to publish circa 2 books a year. Farming was not paying the bills and after Andy took a 2 year contract with the County Council to manage a programme for people with Learning Disabilities, he jumped to 18 books in a year, and the business was formed. Karen was running a 2nd hand bookshop in Weobley at this time and was looking for something new. She joined him in running the business, and before long they got married. They enjoyed similar pursuits and ’Walking in the Old Ways of Herefordshire’ with 52 walks, one a week, emerged. The challenge in writing this book was to spread the walks around Herefordshire, to find walks that were open and accessible; and walks that also took in a variety of aspects of history, and were visible (not behind a hedge). Fortunately there were many features including an Iron Age farmstead; a canal; and sites with connections to the different wars. Unexpectedly they found that people used the books in different ways. Somebody who lived in Herefordshire but barely knew Ross used the book to explore the town and its surrounds; someone who had lived unknowingly close to a Saxon wall used the book to explore their own local area; people used the book in ways that suited them.

Having done Herefordshire they turned to Radnorshire which was equally loved and enjoyed. History was however more complex. There were less physical structures, very little stone work. Visible history was generally around the edges and half of the walks reflected this. The history that became interesting and different in Radnorshire was the ‘pre-history’. It was sometimes difficult to discern if a feature was a stone circle or remains of a burial chamber. Examples were often difficult to find amongst the heathers and gorse in the landscape. Often sites had not been excavated so very little was known. The Walton Basin was classically difficult – hugely exciting but often nothing to see. What they tried to do was to give people an opportunity to reflect on what it would have been like in 2000 BC. The Palisade at Walton is the 2nd largest in Europe, with a 1½ circumference covering 35 hectares. Standing there now there is almost nothing to see, but what they have tried to convey is: – What would it have meant to people of the time? They have tried to create a sense of ‘wonder’. They have also been able to connect the walks with the archaeological finds, and for example at Walton there have been a number of excavations over the period, and excavations that relate to different periods of history. Twm Tobacco’s tomb with its plaque in the hills above Painscastle/Aberedw has excited a similar sense of wonder. Was it connected to the import of ‘tobacco’; connected to the ‘Rebecca Riots’; was it to commemorate a Shepherd? No-one knows!  Near Llanfiangel nant Melan there are two farmsteads (Lluests meaning upland pastures) ‘Black Yatt’ and Pant Glas, that have  interesting histories. In the 17th and 18th Centuries adjacent landowners sought to establish claims and rights to open hillsides. These were arbitrated by the court leets to establish occupation between the 15th May and 15th August. Pant Glas is still occupied whereas Black Yatt was blown up in the making of “It Happened Here”, a film depicting what might have happened if a German Invasion of Brittain had been successful in 1944.

The most recent Radnorshire book is “Early Birds and Boys in Blue – A Century of Radnorshire Aviation” by Phillip Jones, which, like “Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire”, is available at the Thomas Shop. Phillip Jones is an avid researcher and the big problem with him was to stop him at a point when a book might be published. He has covered in this book almost everyone who was involved in some way with early flying in, out of, and into Radnorshire. The first plane to land in Radnorshire was on its way to be the first plane from Britain to land on Irish soil, a Bleriot XI flown by Corbett Wilson, and which incidentally hit a hedge at Logaston on the way. The plane was refuelled with a mix that included ‘castor oil’. Within a few miles of Logaston it had to make an emergency landing in a field in Radnorshire, not appreciated by the farmer, as they had used the ‘wrong’ sort of castor oil! Once again they refuelled the plane made a detour from crossing via Holyhead and made the journey successfully from Fishguard.

Also featured in the book are the exploits of Reginald Percy Bufton who had an adventurous career in the RAF, and one that also included importing tropical fish by strapping a water tank close to the engine of the plane!

Andy and Karen are about to embark on a new phase in their life. They have identified some people who they believe will take on Logaston Press in the spirit that they have run it. Andy and Karen have things and places to explore. Andy has a particular interest in, the controversial and influential, Sir John Oldcastle, a son of Ameley, 1378 – 1417. He had several claims to fame:

  • His friendship to Prince Hal – later to be Henry V
  • His military career
  • Member of Parliament
  • A member of the Lollards, a political group that sought Protestant type changes within the Roman Catholic Church
  • As a Lollard he initiated rebellion, was indicted, reprieved by the King, continued to forcibly promote his views, was sent to the Tower, escaped, and eventually hung, drawn and quartered.
  • His name was adopted by Shakespeare and then changed to the infamous Sir John Falstaff.

Andy hopes to find the time to ‘write’! Don’t we all!

After a number of questions relating to footpaths, that included:

  • The relative merits of going through a field with a ‘friendly bull’ to a field with a furiously protective cow with a calf
  • How the racial prejudices of a Parish Council contributed to their objection to opening footpaths
  • A how Colonel Zog managed to get farmers to consider rights of way when threatened with the imposition of a 3 metre strip created by a Combine Harvester

Elizabeth Newman was asked by Geraint to express our thanks to Andy and Karen for a most informative session. Elizabeth thanked Andy not only for the talk but for the contribution that he and Karen have made to the local area. The books go all over the world bringing Hereford and Radnorshire to a wide audience. She had been particularly pleased that he had used Radnorshire in his titles and not ‘Mid Wales’. Radnorshire has an appeal way beyond the non-specific alternative. She also mentioned the invaluable work that Andy and Karen had initiated by involving offenders in the environmental work of restoring and maintaining footpaths. Thank-you.

Next Meeting will be at 10.00 a.m. Monday 3rd July for the Walk.