Penybont and District Local History Group November 2016 Main Topic: History of Postal Services – Derek Turner

 

Geraint opened the meeting to another packed house to remind members of our next meeting which will be held at Penybont Hall. Richard Morgan has invited us and they will provide coffee for a 10.30 a.m. start. In a addition to a tour of the Hall we will try to cover ‘Extreme Weather Conditions’ – Please bring any photos or memories.

Also in the agenda is the Video evening in the Community Hall on Tuesday 15th November. There will be a £3 charge to cover costs. There will be 3 videos: 1990 Races; 1990 Fatstock Sale; 1990 Opening of the Community Centre.

Geraint, Mary and Derek will be meeting on Friday when they will try to bring together a programme for next year. Ideas and offers to take on a session would be more than welcome.

Jennifer brought to the attention of members a Radnorshire Society Meeting on Sat at 5.00 p.m. in the Metropole on the life and artistry of Thomas Jones of Pencerrig.

David gave a short introduction the work of the Repair Café that will this Saturday 12th where items that might need repairing will hopefully be fixed. Volunteers ‘experts’ are on hand to help with a wide variety of items. It is held at the Celf building on the way into Llandrindod. They also act as a collection site for ‘Tools for Self- Reliance’. Tools that are useful to the 3rd World are repaired and passed on to the countries that can make the best use of them. Tools that are not needed are sold to raise funds to keep the Charity running.

Jane also mentioned that the Peace Choir at the Pales will be giving a recital to celebrate their 7th birthday on Saturday 19th November at 3.30 p.m.

Geraint reminded members that it is Remembrance Sunday this coming Sunday and that a service will be held at the War Memorial at 10.00 a.m. The Hall Social Committee has very kindly lain on refreshments in the Hall for after the service.

Main Topic – History of the Post Office in the Area – Derek

National Developments

Derek started by recognising that there were people in the room who knew more about the Post Office than he would ever know. He is hoping that members will contribute to the talk and add to our collective knowledge.

The Royal Mail Heritage website has an excellent Timeline that guides own through the history from its inception as a service that was initially established to serve the King’s needs.

http://royalmailheritage.com/main.php

At that time it was King Henry VIII. Brian Tuke was appointed ‘Master if the Posts’ in 1512 and in 1517 he became ‘Governor of the Kind’s Post’. http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.72.html

In 1533 he made a pronouncement on behalf of the King that would underpin the importance of the service for generations to come. “In pain of life” the service was to be at a state of readiness to convey the mail expeditiously from town to town. Horses would be ready but of course this was not the only problem. Roads at this time were often not more than muddy tracks and subject to the vagaries of the weather.

It did however prove to be a successful venture and in 1635, in the reign of Charles1, Thomas Witherings built on the work of Brian Tuke and established the first Public Postal Service. The first ‘post house’ was created in London in 1637, and by 1637 John Taylor published his ‘Carriers Cosmography’. This gave details of the postal buildings, ships and other facilities that were already in place in England, Scotland, Ireland, and even the Netherlands. The first mention of Wales is also included:

“The Carriers of Monmouth in Wales, and some parts of Monmouthshire; do lodge at the Saint Paul’s Head in Carter Lane. They do come to London on Fridays.”

The postal services evolved gradually over the years that followed and despite Civil Wars it became a Unified Service across England, Scotland and Wales, but it would be over 100 years before Penybont would see a service in the village. The first major reorganisation of the postal service took place at about the time Penybont was ready and able to open its doors, with horses at the ready. In 1782 a Theatre Proprietor from Bath, John Palmer, who had developed a system for moving theatre sets between different towns thought that he could radically change the method of managing the mail across the country. Up to this time the mail was taken by horse or cart across the country from town to town. At each stop the Postmaster would sort out their mail and it would be then sent on to the next postal town where the process would be repeated. Palmer introduced a system whereby the mail was pre-sorted and simply dropped off at post towns while the horses were changed. This change reduced the time that mail was taking to be delivered by up to a third. It in addition improved the relationship between the travelling public and the postal services as the carriages more practically carried passengers as well as the mail much more efficiently.

The safety of the mail on these hazardous journeys across country was of paramount importance. The Mail Coach Guard would sit alongside the driver with a duty to see the mail through. He would be heavily armed with two pistils and a blunderbuss to see off Highwaymen. He would sound his horn to give advance warning in the Post Towns that horses needed to be got ready for the onward journey, and most importantly when the coach was approaching the Turnpikes Gates. Stopping the coaches at these points could leave the mail vulnerable so the horn would be sounded to ensure that the gates were opened to allow the coaches through. Mail coaches were exempt from toll charges. The coaches must have been quite a sight going through the countryside but they could cause quite a bit of excitement in the towns. Sadie Cole in the Radnorshire Transactions of 2002 describes the scene in 1835 in Kington:

“Hours before the coach arrived for the first time on a Friday evening in May the streets were crowded and when at last the sound of the horn was heard in the distance children shrilled with delight. When the horses were detached at the Oxford Arms a group of brawny young men surged forward and hauled the coach to the Swan Coach Office to rapturous applause of the on-lookers.”

 

The bravery of the Mail Coach Guards was quickly recognised and volunteers from amongst their members were recruited into the Army. A specific regiment was established: Post Office Riffles 1816 – 1921. When they were disbanded they became the backbone of the Territorial Army in its early days.

The next century saw the Post Office develop into the multi-faceted organisation that was eventually broken up in the second half of the twentieth century. Letter Carriers were given a uniform in 1793 as a way of ensuring that they did not loiter, frequent ale-houses, and interrupt the speedy delivery of the mail.

Payment for postal services was originally a tax on those people who received the post. This could vary depending on the route taken. The earliest service to Aberystwyth from London came via Montgomery but this was a 11d as opposed to the service that subsequently came via Kington and Penybont which was just 10d. In 1839 a uniform postage system was introduced based upon a penny rate. The following year the postal service took a major advance when Rowland Hill developed the first adhesive stamp – the penny black. In that year, 1840, 68 million stamps were purchased.

With the onus now on the sender to pay for postal services the introduction of pillar boxes in 1852 made the process much simpler and more efficient. The history of pillar boxes can be seen at: http://www.royalmailgroup.com/sites/default/files/Royal%20Mail%20Post%20Boxes%20Heritage%20Agreement.pdf

The first sign of the Post Office services to come started with the Post Office Savings Bank where people were encouraged to save money in postal towns where there were few banks as yet. This was followed closely by an increase in personnel when three cats were recruited, on probation, to seek out mice in the Money Order Office. A budget of 1 shilling a week was put aside for this purpose.

Adjusting to technological advances the Post Office Telegraph service was established in 1870; Postal Orders were introduced in 1881 to support poor families who had no way of sending the small amounts of money that banks would not deal with; a parcel post in 1907; and the separate private phone services were brought together and nationalised at a cost of £12,515,264, as the National Phone Service, in 1912.

Penybont Postal Services

During this period of development the postal service in Penybont was initially catching up with the national picture, and more latterly running as part of a developed service.

There are suggestions that Penybont may have become a Postal Town as early as 1767 when John Price, of Thomas Shop and Penybont Hall fame, was asked by the newly formed Radnorshire Turnpike Trust to survey the road between New Radnor and Clewedog. The Turnpike Trusts were established to improve that state of the roads, as these roads, as we have seen, were extremely important to the smooth transfer of post between towns. It is probably unlikely that postal status was given to Penybont, or as in those days Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion, before Aberystwyth, which was given this status in 1769. The earliest date known that confirms that this status has been given to the village is 1784. (Welsh Post Towns – MA Scott) At that time the cost of mail to London was 4d with the mail being brought on horseback to the New Inn/Fleece Inn, owned by John Price, which was then on the other side of the river to the current Inn.

Mr D Davies is referred to as Postmaster and Innkeeper of the Fleece Inn at Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion in 1807. (The Squires of Penybont Hall – RCB Oliver) This association between Postmaster and Innkeeper at the Golden Fleece/Fleece/Severn Arms would endure until 1891. By the time J. Griffiths came into these titles (1818) the name of the Inn had changed to the Severn Arms (1814) and we begin to read of the village of Penybont rather than the older name Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion. Roads had been improved by the Turnpike Trustees and Post coaches arrived at Severn Arms at 11.a.m., to depart again with new horses at noon, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

By 1828 Mr Parton is Postmaster at the Severn Arms, still on the same site. JT Llewellyn Pritchard’s Cambria Balnea reports

“A ride or drive due north, and afterwards inclining easterly, for four miles leads to what may be considered a miracle in this district – a genteel village; for such Pen-y-bont most assuredly is, although on a confined scale. Through it runs the London Road, rendered lively by the daily passing of coaches; and across it, the River Ithon, remarkable for its picturesque meanderings, and the excellence of its numerous scaly inhabitants ……….. Looking suddenly to the right we are agreeably struck with a pleasing sight, the truly elegant mansion of JC Severn, Esq. ………. Lower down, on the left hand side of the road stands the Severn Arms Inn, and Post Office, a superior looking tenement, where the coaches change horses. It is kept by Mr. Parton, who by his attention, civility, and good accommodation gives the best assurance that he merits the good success of his business.”

The next Postmaster came in 1832 and oversaw a period of rapid change. In 1835 the Mail Coach would be introduced as a daily service between Kington and Aberystwyth, and in 1840 the Severn Arms moved to its current site on the other side of the River Ithon. Mr Stephens placed an advert in the Hereford Journal referring to;

“Post chaises, Flys and Gigs supplied on the shortest notice with steady horses and careful drivers. The London Mail daily via Cheltenham; also Sovereign Post Coach via Worcester, where it meets coaches the same evening for the Birmingham railway.”

The Sovereign Coach was a seasonal service and did not operate through the winter months. Postal charges at this time had risen to 10d. This period was not without its controversy however, Sadie Cole, as referred to above, recounts the concerns raised by Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Lewis, who lived at Harpton Court, New Radnor, to the Government Officer responsible for contracts relating to the horses. In a letter written on the 7th January 1835 he reported the contractor as being unfit as the service did not run with any degree of regularity and only at the whim of the operator when he might simply send a horse rather than the cart he was supposed to. The operator who was from Rhayader was in very derogatory terms described as a ‘Welsh Speaker’ as though that explained his lack of responsibility. So incensed was the MP that he wrote again one day later a reported that the operator was known to be a drunkard, ran his horses out of control, he did not treat the mail with any degree of security, and that he suffered from the ‘sin of the lower classes’. The operator lost the contract.

Two years later  on 22nd June 1837  in the Parliamentary Select Committee Papers the Rt Hon TF Lewis reported his concerns about the state of the roads in Radnorshire, the limitations on the capacity of the Turnpike Trust to raise sufficient revenue, and on the very high charges on rural businessmen in traveling from New Radnor to Hereford:

“As far as I know and believe, no money has been raised in the County of Radnor under the Highway Act. The reason I conceive to be this, all important lines of road are included in the Turnpike Act; there are no by-roads sufficiently important to make people think it worthwhile to raise money for the purpose of repairing them, and we are prevented by a clause in the Highway Act from laying out the parish money on turnpike-roads, which are the only roads of any great or essential use to us.

Would it be possible, by raising the tolls to provide money sufficient to repair the turnpike-roads, so as to prevent the necessity of calling upon the parishes for any additional assistance? – The tolls are already extremely high; we pay 6d on every horse drawing, and 1½d on every horse ridden; it should be remembered that many of our horses are very small, and draw but little weight. In the rugged roads of our mountainous districts, broad wheels cannot well be used, and in these districts narrow-wheeled waggons are in general use…. My residence is 24 mile from Hereford; a waggon with five horses, would pay 12s 6d toll for travelling that distance; ……. my persuasion, therefore, is, that the tolls are already such in amount, that it would be of serious injury to the commerce of the county to increase them……

What would be the effect of postponing this Act to another Session? – We have already been 2 years in Radnorshire without means of applying any money to the roads, which, as I have already described, are the most important roads in the County; they are already very much gone out of repair, and I apprehend, if we are left for a third year in the position in which we have been placed for the last two years, that the mail-coach which has been established between London and Aberystwyth, in Cardiganshire, and for the establishment of which a private subscription exceeding 600l. has been already subscribed and expended, must cease to go; I verily believe that the road could not be kept another year in such condition as to enable this coach to pass during the winter; and that, I am informed, would be deemed a most serious injury to Cardiganshire, Radnorshire and Herefordshire.”

The next major change to the services provided by Penybont occurred with the coming of the trains in 1864. As the mail started to arrive on the trains and the role of the Postmaster became incompatible with that of the Severn Arms. In 1891 the Post Office opened and mail was sorted into rounds and delivered to the people of the locality.

Penybont Post Office as a Sorting Office continued until 1950 when the responsibility for managing the service moved to Llandrindod and Penybont became a Sub-Post Office.

  •                   Mr and Mrs William Boulter

1926 – 1941                 Mr and Mrs Edward Bufton

1941 – 1954                 Mr and Mrs A.N. Edwards

1954 – 1965                 Mr Stan and Mrs Millie Price

1965 – 1999                 Mr Ray and Mrs Sylvia Price

& Lynda Price

1999 – 2003                 Mr Ian and Mrs Sandra Langstaff

2003 – 2004                  Mr Peter and Mrs Amanda Jones

Derek had interviewed Ray Price and the following are the notes taken from that meeting. There is more information about Ray and Sylvia’s time at the Post Office in Rev Geraint Hughes – Penybont, A Village History.

Ray and Sylvia Price – Penybont Post Office 1965 – 1999

Ray was born in Llanddewi but moved with his family to Ludlow on Penybont Common very early in life. He married Sylvia in 1963. Sylvia was at that time working for Radnor District Council and had a good steady job. Ray by contrast had been a versatile agricultural worker who, like the agricultural workers described by Shirley in our last meeting, could turn his hand to most things. While he had plenty of work, on top of his small-holding at Ludlow, he did not have the stable income that a young man with responsibilities might aspire to, so when Dillwyn Powell, who was then manager for Fosters the Seed Merchants where Ray’s brother Ken worked, offered him a job as a driver he took the job, albeit he had never had a driving job before.

Having to walk past the Post Office every day he became aware quite early on that Stan and Millie Price wanted to retire. They had come to Penybont, from Builth, a few years earlier to take on the Post Office as a sort of retirement ‘hobby’, but they now needed to move on. This attracted Ray and after convincing himself that this was a serious opportunity he put it to Sylvia that they should buy the Post Office. Initially Sylvia thought he was mad, however Ray remained convinced, and they continued to talk about it, and eventually Sylvia came round to the idea, mainly because their respective work commitments meant that they were able to spend very little time together.

Ray made an offer based on what he thought he and Sylvia could afford but Stan turned it down as he had had a better offer. It was Gwynn Hughes the Manager at the Bank in Penybont that made all the difference. He looked at Ray’s resources and gave him a figure and told him that he must not go higher. So when Stan asked Ray if he was still interested Ray was able to tell him exactly what he could afford and a deal was struck there and then over a hand-shake. A few steps away was the bank and Ray was able to confirm the deal with Gwynn Hughes and he and Sylvia became proud owners of the Post Office. Sylvia became the Sub-Postmistress and for a few years Ray continued to work for Fosters until he sold Ludlow. During this time Dillwyn was a great help to Ray as he helped him to manage the transition from Small-holder/Driver to being full-time, and working alongside Sylvia in the Post Office.

Running a Post Office was not a soft option. They worked very long hours in the Post Office (initially from 7.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. and then later from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 a.m.) and then had a considerable amount of administration and stock control to attend to. Ray describes it as ‘hard’ but clearly he and Sylvia quickly developed a close bond with the community they both grew up with, and they enjoyed the contact with the people they knew and loved. Lynda was born in 1967 and it was not too long before she became an important part of the staff team.

From the beginning they felt supported by the community and they took their opportunities to go the extra mile. Geraint told a story last month of how Ray and Sylvia had an ‘emergency’ request for Epsom salts, as a farmer had a cow that had a swelling that made it seem the animal might ‘explode’. They were able to find in stock the Epsom salts that saved the day and the cow. The farmer concerned was a regular customer for years and years after that. This exemplifies their approach to the business. They were there to provide a service, and because people recognised this, the business prospered.

Another example of this and how to turn adversity into service provision, and hence profit, was during the ‘great’ snow storm of 1981.  In those days they got their bread from Hereford.  It was a Friday and he had about 30 to 40 bread orders to fulfil and the bread delivery van had got to the Forest Inn and could not move in any direction. The week-end was a challenge for everyone and they even closed the Post Office on the Saturday morning. During Sunday the road  via Witton was unblocked and Ray set off for the Forest Inn on the Monday morning. Getting there Ray decided to take not just his own order but as much of the bread in the delivery van as he could fit in. Returning to the Post Office, not only was he able to meet the needs of all his regular customers but he was sold our very quickly. Ray ws then to to get a delivery from Oswestry, but when the van arrived the driver explained that he had been unable to deliver to other shops including Dolau and he had a full van. Ray decided to take all that he had, and once again he was sold out very quickly, and he gained customers long term who were so grateful that Ray and Sylvia kept their shop open.

Then there was the year of the ‘great sugar shortage’. A van driver arrived at the Post Office with an order for Mr Jones! Ray had been expecting an order for 40 parcels so he assumed the order was for him and they simply had the name wrong. So he took the order! The next day another driver arrived with the 40 parcels of sugar for the Post Office. By this stage there was no sugar to be had anywhere and Ray had 80 parcels of sugar. Well it was bonanza time. People came from everywhere to buy sugar. They were soon sold out. A gentleman from Llanbister  bought some sugar and was so pleased he placed his order with Ray and Sylvia every week.

As part of a side line to the Post Office Ray has developed a particular interest in old postcards. Sylvia and Ray had previously developed within the Post Office a set of post cards with scenes in and around the village. He told me of a remarkable story that involved Richard Davies. Many years ago Richard visited Penybont with Mary and while he was there he bought from the Post Office a postcard to send to his grandmother in West Wales. The completed card was franked in Penybont and duly sent. Many, many years later Ray received from a friend in London who was also a ‘collector’ a card that had a Penybont frank on it. The card was the very same card that Richard had sent to his grandmother. Ray has been able to return the card to Richard.

Ray referred to the range of businesses in the village, other than the farming community, that all had a connection with the Post Office. There was an Ironmonger (in Glen Ellen); the Blacksmith with Tom Price and his father before him; Tom ‘Cash’ Stephens sweet shop, in Suzanna’s House; a Sadler behind the Post Office; Midland Bank; Market; Severn Arms; Police Station; 2 houses did Teas including Brynithon; and Fosters the Seed Merchants.

Fosters was a significant business in the village, having been for a time in the wooden building at the Thomas Shop it moved to the yard where the Council depot is today. There were 8 people working in the yard, they had three lorries taking orders out, three Reps were based at the yard. The business was very busy covering over to Aberystwyth and Leominster.

Ray would say that the secret of their success at the Post Office, over and above hard work, was proving a service to the local community and having a trusting relationship with his customers. He is rightly proud that when they left the Post Office all those people who had ‘accounts’ with him cleared their debts. He did almost however run into difficulty with the Post Office by extending his service beyond the official times of opening to accommodate a group of people who wanted to manage their football coupons as a syndicate and came in very early to get them sent off. While he was in the middle of helping them the Postmaster from Llandrindod came into the Post Office. Fortunately he turned a ‘blind eye’ and nothing was said. It was considered quite a serious breach to open out of hours in those days.

After the Post Office closed in 2004 an attempt was made to open a facility within the Thomas Shop Museum in 2005. A connection was made by the Post Office managers with Sarah Mason who ran the Post Office in Newbridge and they administered a service for a short time. The Opening was attended by Kirsty Williams AM and a limited service was provided over the next year.

Llandegley Post Office

Derek admitted that he had not managed to find out any information that was not already in Geraint’s Book. A Post Office operated in Llandegley, out of Primrose Cottage, from 1817. In 1871 Evan Evans ws the Postmaster and working for him was a Post Messenger – Charles Jenkins. When Penybont became the Sorting Office there is only John Evans, described as Postman, working out of Primrose Cottage.

Derek hoped that the members present could add to what is already known.

Crossgates Post Office

Derek confessed that he had been unable to find any information in what has been an important service in the area and he hoped that information would be forthcoming now that he had finished his presentation.

Geraint thanked Derek for the presentation and for illustrating our local service within the development of the national picture, and the floor was opened for members to contribute.

A story emerged in relation to Mr and Mrs Edward Bufton, Mrs Bufton, Auntie Beatty was a teacher at Llanddewi School but it was their Cob that was remembered with by several members. Maureen was aware that Mr Bufton was important in the Trotting scene and had become important in this sphere from 1921. The Cob was appropriately called ‘Post Boy’ and Mary had remembered him as a source of great envy. The family had moved to Sunnyside on the Common and the Post Boy would bring the children of the household into the village and to the shop. Mary would have loved to be one of these highly privileged children.

Mr Edwards, in addition to taking on the Post Office was also a coal merchant. Mary remembers some concern that the Post Office was now selling groceries and provided some competition to the Thomas Shop.

Stan and Millie Price had a reputation for serving the children sweets and 5 Woodbine would be a common purchase.

In the last few minutes a number of references were made that need to be followed up that mainly related to Crossgates:

Una’s Mother-in-law

Trewern Villa

Frankie Jones and Ted – the Waltons

Millie and Edgar Morgan

There was a reference to the van in the photo taken outside the Crossgates Post Office – Bread being delivered from Henry Quarterman Coates from Llandrindod

Tony and Lynne Eckleston were at Crossgates. Tony is now living in Howey.

Lynne and Rod Hill also at Crossgates

There was a memory of Mr Edwards at the Post Office in Penybont supplying ‘black market’ sweets that were meant to be on ration.

Geraint reminded us of the range of things that have been lost in recent history:

  • Blacksmith
  • Cattle and sheep market
  • Tennis Courts
  • Water Mills
  • The Station that serviced the engines on their way through
  • Police Station and cells
  • Friendly Society (In its day the largest in the whole area
  • The Post Office itself was more than just a facility, it was a social centre and meeting place

David is living in the ‘Old Post Office’ in Llanbister. There is clearly a long history associated with this facility. He would welcome any information and anecdotes associated with the Post Office.

Geraint mentioned that there was a problem for pensioners similar to the trouble we all have with pin numbers and passwords. In Penybont the problem was resolved by having a list of all the Pension Pin Numbers pinned to the wall behind the counter!

In another memory of Steve the Postman who would pick up mail along his route and if someone had no stamps he would take them anyway and stamp the letters himself.

John A., who was unfortunately not with us to add to the memories, had previously told us of how the Christmas mail was delivered on Christmas Day. He was challenged to get through his round as he was invited in to enjoy the ‘hospitality’ of each home.

The next meeting will be at Penybont Hall at 10.30 a.m. on the 5th December. A new programme for next year will be sent out as soon as possible.

 

 

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Notes of 3rd October 2016 Meeting Main Topic – The Lives of Agricultural Workers Shirley Morgan

Geraint opened the meeting to another full house and welcomed , in particular the ‘throng’ from New Radnor – Marion’s Team of Jennifer, Robin and Susan. Rachel, who came from Kerry, is new to the area and to the group. Geraint also pointed out that Elizabeth had: ‘brought her husband along’! Peter. Peter mentioned that they were settling in to the Old Rectory in Dolau and that they were still setting up their Book-selling business’, Castle Books.  Reference was made to the ‘Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire’ which is available at the Thomas Shop.

Geraint indicated that it is time to draw members attention next year’s diary. He, Mary and Derek, are looking for suggestions.  The next meeting will feature Derek who will be talking about the history of the Post Office.  The Meeting on the 5th December will be at Penybont Hall when there will be a focus on ‘extreme weather conditions’.

Mary confessed that she and Richard have ‘retired’ from the village and they are currently staying in a Bed and Breakfast facility in Llandrindod before moving into their new house as soon as it is ready for occupation.

Geraint has been talking to Frank Morgan about showing some of his ‘movies’ of Penybont alongside some of the new slides that Geraint has had given to him over the last year. This will be an additional session on  15th November .

Lynda has opened a Facebook page for PenybontRadnorshire, and it is hoped that this will provide a better way of managing the numerous pictures that are now in Geraint’s collection.

Main Topic – “The Lives of Agricultural Labourers” – Shirley Morgan

Most of us have an Ag Lab as an ancestor. Who were they and where did they originate. Shirley wondered whether we looked back at a ‘romantic age’ and mourned the loss of a rural cultural identity as in the books of Thomas Hardy.

They emerged with the Enclosures, where cottagers with land and common rights were powerless to prevent exploitation by wealthy landowners. Up to that point there was a culture of co-production on the common land that was managed by the community in strips that were prone to disease and were not as productive as farm management systems that were coming in.  After the Enclosures Act of 1801, families who had lived for generations on their small-holdings with commoner’s rights were deprived of their holdings and forced to become a landless working class employed by the landowners who created large farms. The Agricultural Revolution saw the rise of capitalist farmers who adopted better farming processes – drainage, crop rotation, animal husbandry, machinery, increased production of winter fodder – (turnips), leguminous plants: based on the principles developed by Jethro Tull in the early 18th century. All these needed labour, so that by the time Victoria came to the throne farming had in many places had become a business instead of a means of subsistence. Villages came to have a hierarchy – squire, tenant farmer, and the landless labourer, who was at the bottom of the social scale.

The general social unrest of the 1830’s was felt among agricultural workers. The harsh workhouses instituted by the Poor Law had a marked effect in the country areas and combined with low wages and fear of increased mechanisation, riots and rick burning, and the destruction of threshing machines broke out in many areas. 1834 saw the protest by the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who founded ‘The Friendly Society of Labourers’. Their sentence of transportation was reprieved and their courageous actions  helped pave the way for the creation of trade unions and the protection of labourer’s rights.

As the century progressed agriculture saw increasing prosperity. The period up to 1870 has been described as the ‘golden age’ of Agriculture. The Crimean War and the increase in the number of urban dwellers caused the price of agricultural goods to rise sharply. The development of the railways provided quick transportation. The Great Exhibition of 1851 showcased the wide variety of machinery, wages rose and social unrest declined.

However, it was short-lived as from 1873 inwards the long depression in agriculture set in. Animal diseases and wet summers took their toll, but it was the cheap imports of American wheat caused the price of wheat to fall. Refrigeration ships brought Argentinian beef and Australian lamb and canning processes improved. Labourers suffered, many left to work in urban jobs, and again there was an attempt to form unions .Joseph Arch, a farm labourer, founded the National Agricultural Labourers Union which encouraged striking. He visited Presteigne in September 1874 and spoke

He was the first labourer to be elected an MP in the election of 1885. He visited Presteigne in September 1874 and spoke for an hour to a crowd of 5000. The demands for higher wages were considered outrageous by the farmers, but public opinion forced them to make concessions and wages rose by one to two shillings. Emigration was very high among agricultural labourers, in Radnorshire in 1869 a liver fluke epidemic caused wholesale destruction of the sheep flocks so there followed a wave of emigration to the USA.

The beginning of the new century saw moderate prosperity for farmers with the introduction of new breeds of cattle – Friesian, Shorthorn; and new grass strains, but this meant nothing to the labourer.

The landslide victory of the Liberals in 1906 brought a large number of changes, Old Age Pensions took away the fear of the Workhouse for agricultural labourers who had made up a large proportion of the elderly occupants. It was the threat of the Incremental Value and Underdeveloped Land Bill of 1909 which caused the massive changes to the way of life in the countryside. It started a flood of sales of the larger estates. Many land-owners, including the Severn’s and Ormathwaite’s, saw their land as poor investment so they unburdened themselves of their vast estates. In many cases it was tenants who bought a farm; often employing family members and perhaps one or two hands. Shirley’s Great Grandfather was one such farmer who took  advantage of ‘cheap’ farm land prices but had to raise a mortgage of £900 – equivalent to £1,000,000 at today’s prices!

The 1901 Census shows that within 10 years 50% if farm labourers had left the industry. Move to the increasing opportunities in towns and cities was one factor, but education was undoubtedly another. There were the adults of working age who benefitted from the 1870 Education Act. Indeed some critics blamed education for destroying country life. One farmer lamented that ‘boys kept at school to 13 years of age became accustomed to a warm room and dry feet and showed no liking for a cold north east wind with sleet and rain, and mud all over his boot-tops carrying turnips to the sheep.

In the eve of the Great War Britain was only producing a fraction of the nation’s food – 4 out of 5 slices of bread were made of imported wheat, and 3 out of 5 spread with imported butter. One of the first things that happened was the establishment of War Agricultural Committees. The drain of young men to the forces has been well documented and must be one of the saddest things to impact on farm labourers.  Civilians from all walks of life were drafted in to the industry – farmers complained about having chocolate makers and piano tuners, etc.; prisoners were also used for agricultural work; but the Women’s Land Army made its first appearance, sometimes romanticised they were useful in the land.  The War Years are remembered for the first appearance of farm tractors, many of them home produced, but their influence was limited due to the lack of operating and maintenance skills.

Farm workers experienced a decline in wages during the War, returning soldiers were reluctant to return to the land. For some there was no alternative and possibly  with new confidence they returned optimistically thinking that the new found strength of the unions would enhance their prospects. Unions experienced a revival possibly because of the radical attitude among returning soldiers, but fragmentation of workers and bonds between employer and worker calmed it down. The 1921 Census shows a huge reduction in the number of agricultural labourers. There was mourning for the passing of a way of life and a realisation of how precious and skilled agricultural workers had been. – Thomas Hardy.

The thirties saw the fastest decline in the labour force than in any other decade. Wages were lower, there was little job security, hours were long and holidays were rare.

At the outbreak of the 2nd World War, Britain found herself again relying on foreign imports, but this time she was more prepared in other areas. – War Agricultural Committees were in place, there was a reserve of fertiliser  and machinery and targets were set. Experienced farm workers  were exempt from conscription and industry was prohibited  from employing agricultural workers.  Three months before the outbreak of war the Women’s Land Army was rushed into existence and by 1943 it had reached 100,000. They had distinctive uniforms and received 28 shillings a week. We must not overlook the part played by prisoners of war who in 1946 formed one sixth of the labour force.

How Did Agricultural Labourers Find A Job?

The Hiring Fairs were very common in Radnorshire, and were generally held in May. Farm servants who lived in were generally hired in this way. Girls wore aprons and the boys and men wore smocks or had an emblem of their trade; e.g. cow hair or sheep’. The agreement was clinched with a shilling known as ‘earnest money’. Hiring Fairs continued to be held in Rhayader, Knighton, Builth  and Penybont well into the 1940’s. Newspapers and word of mouth also played a part in advertising a vacancy.

Wages have always been a cause for contention. Children put out to work on farms sometime got nothing for their first year and £1 for their second.  In 1868, a strong capable girl could be had for £3 per year. Servants were completely at the mercy of their ‘masters’, their terms of employment had to be completed. Until 1875 absconders were punished with heavy fines or imprisonment. Very often it is hard to calculate a labourer’s wage as perks were often included; e.g. buttermilk, potatoes, or meals at the farmhouse in busy times. If a cottage was provided it would probably be cramped and basic. The idyllic view of a farm labourer returning home to a picturesquely furnished house and glowing log fire was false.

Sime idea of the wages paid by a farmer is shown by the diary of John Stephens who kept a pocket book covering 1895 -1905. No record of wages for his housekeeper Evangeline Jones. John Williams was recorded as receiving £41 per year; but other Agricultural workers got just £14 and Lizzie only got £6.

Food was basic – potatoes, bread and flummery were staples. Beef and mutton didn’t appear on the labourer’s table.

Clothes saw smocks disappearing throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. Men’s clothes had to be serviceable in all weather. Moleskin, corduroy and Derby tweed were used for trousers and waistcoats with collarless flannel shirts. Waterproof clothing was invented in the 1820’s and wellingtons in the 1850’s, but they didn’t become affordable or generally available until the 1940’s. George Lewis says that the common wet weather coat was a Gopsil Brown sacking slung around the neck and fastened with a piece of wire called a ‘bad uck’. Rubber wellies were preceded by hob-nailed boots and gaiters or trousers simply tied with a bit of string. Boots would have to be checked regularly and repaired at home.

Jobs were many and varied. A general farm workers life would be characterised by  hardship and lack of opportunity. Young boys  known as ‘lumpers’  were expected to assist  in  the whole range of tasks, lifting and carrying, and all the time learning until they were able to do all the labours of a man. The trademark of a good labourer was versatility, he would sow seeds, hoe, weed, mow, make hurdles, cut chaff spread dung, thresh, hedge, ditch, and mend roads.

Horsemen (waggoners) were expected to take a pride in their animals. Their day would begin at 5 a.m. when they had to feed and harness the horses  for work by 7.00 a.m. Work would vary with the seasons – ploughing, harrowing, muck spreading, general carting, and harvesting.  They would be expected to feed and bed down the horses after the long day’s work. Chaff had to be cut the night before and soaked to make it more digestible. The coming of mechanisation meant that this lovely partnership of horses and men rapidly became a thing of the past. Scenes remain poignant.

Cowmen had an early start. Milking was dine inside and outside. Calving had to be supervised  so this meant long unsociable hours were worked. Foddering, watering, and mexing had to be done whatever the day.

The Shepherd’s role was often romanticised by artists, but it was a hard one. Lambing was done out of doors and lambs often needed help to survive. Sheep washing, dipping, and shearing were hard work.

Harvest was a hard time for labourers.

The hay harvest moved from being wholly manual to mechanised – one of these could do the work of 4 labourers with scythes. It was turned by hand or horse rake, put into cocks and loaded onto a gambo. The years after the war saw the gradual mechanisation of hay making – balers.

Oats were harvested mostly in the area. Again it was cut by scythe and hand tying of sheaves before the introduction of reaper binders after WW1. The building of ricks for hay or straw was a skilled one which died out with the advent of French barns in the 50’s. Again a precious labourer’s skill was lost.

Local Agricultural Labourers

In the Penybont / Llandegley area the only farms independent from the estate were those owned by the Duggan and Watkins families. These employed several labourers that might include: Waggoner; Agricultural Labourer; Sheppard; Servants – Often about 8 people.

Most of the farms in the area were small and rented from the Penybont Estate and these employed at least one or two  farm servants. But as we have seen  the 1909 Land Valuation Act which heralded the break-up of the Ormathwaite Estate. Tenants were given the opportunity to buy their farms  and so tenants became owners. If there were no family members to work the farm then help was employed.  This was often a young boy – lumper, who lived in and was paid minimal wages with keep provided. The lot of these young people varied greatly depending on the generosity of the farmers and their wives. The social position of these farmers  was no higher than their servants. Lots of evidence to suggest there was a happy, respectful, co-existence between  the boss and the labourer. Refer to George Lewis  being taught to read by the waggoner, Emrys and Emlyn living as part of the family in the Elan Valley. However there are stories of harsh treatment – Nantmel and another labourer now nearly ninety who started work at the age of 15 years in 1943, earned £50 a year and never ate with the family.

We are going to look at the lives of some local labourers, obviously I have not been able to talk to anyone older than ninety. Hopefully this will reflect some of what has gone before.

 

Norah Morgan

Norah was born in Salford, Manchester in 1926 and cane down to Crossgates with the Women’s Land Army. Based at the hostel she worked on numerous farms around the area. She recalls never having seen a cow or sheep and remembers a farmer putting her on a , and after she had fallen off, he slapped its backside and off she went. As the war progressed she learned to drive a tractor, plough, and do the work that men could do. She even sang with a band in Rock Park. A parade pf the Land Army young ladies caused quite a stir.

Richards Family

Evan, born 1915, went into service around the Clungunford area when he left school, and as you will hear worked with horses. His parents, our grandparents,  bought Baileyshonllwyd just before the war and he spent his working life  there before retiring to Baileymawr in 1986. We listened to a tape of Evan speaking of his life as an Agricultural Worker. Starting in 1936 he worked with sheep, cattle, and poultry. They made milk and butter.

Evan was able to tell us that he worked for a cousin who farmed at Cornhill. The work included sheep, cattle and poultry. They were also involved in milk and butter. Work over the years also included ploughing and growing mangels; cutting turf for the winter. He worked a lot with horses – this involved very long hours from 5.30 a.m. to 10.00 p.m., for pay that was just 10s per week. He did manage to save up the buy a car for £3 which was equivalent to 3 heifers and a calf. The farm was 85 acres. When he moved to Bailey Mawr this was just 14 acres and not enough to provide a loving. One of Evans favourite duties was to break-in horses at about 18 months old. Horses were generally bought at Newbridge or Radnor sales in October and November. Evan lived well, keeping busy and taking his luck until he was 95 years.

Tom born 1928 worked Old Castle, but later worked for the Davies Swydd and he received his long service medal from the Queen. Tom is Carol’s Dad, he lived on the Common, here in Penybont, where he kept sheep dogs. Tom enjoyed telling people that he had a hand that shook hands with the Queen!

Ann and Les Davies

Les started work for Lord Ormathwaite in 1950 and after their marriage in 1950 they moved to the newly built Waindu Cottage. Lord Ormathwaite had just inherited the title of Vl Baron Ormathwaite and what remained of the once large estate. Ann think that he had been involved in the aircraft business in Bristol. In 1973 Les was promoted to Farm Manager when the moved to Waindu. She recalls work as being hard with irregular hours, but fondly remembers Lord Ormathwaite as being a kind and thoughtful employer who treated them as though they were his own family. Lord Ormathwaite was Godfather to their youngest son, Clive on the condition that he didn’t have to make a speech! Les received his long service medal on 1986 from Cledwyn Hughes and retired in 1993. His catch phrase was: “What are we going to do today?” Hours were long but he found the work to be very rewarding.

John Abberley (Unfortuantely John was not with us today to add to his already colourful picture)

Born at the Ffaldau to Bill and Margaret, they rented the farm and they concentrated on milk production. Milking, bottling, and delivery were all done by the family. John did deliveries on his bike. John worked at home but found that neighbouring farms needed help occasionally, so be became an itinerant farm labourer at 10 shillings a day. It became evident that there was no future for him at the Ffaldau as it was rented, so he took employment at Pritchard’s Garage. This was the time when the farm labourer was becoming a thing of the past. John’s working life is a good example of how so many far

John Bufton

One of a rare breed as he spend his whole life on the one farm. He started work in 1957 moving between Dolau Farm, Tyddu Farm, and Tanhouse Farm. He lived in as one of the family even though his home was nearby. Wages were £1 10s a week plus his keep. He worked there for 10 years and wages rose to £9 10s. The day would begin at 7.30 a.m. and would go on as long as was necessary. One perk was that he could sometimes go home on Saturday and they didn’t believe in working on Sundays.

A Year on the Farm with John

Jan             Hedging – he learned to hedge with YFC

Feb            Laying Roads

Mar             Lambing

April            Lambing and sowing oats and mangolds

May            Spreading manure and slag, turn cattle out and washing sheep

June                    Shearing, harvest

July            Dipping

August                 Sheep sales

Sept           Knighton Sheep sales, sheep taken by train

Nov            Cattle in

Dec            Cattle cleaned by hand

1966 married Carol and took a job in a Herefordshire Farm. Life was a bit different here, the farm produced potatoes, milk, beef, corn, sheep, and he drove the trailer with loads of apples into the city for Bulners. Here, Carol and John had a house and 2 weeks holiday. But he cannot h explain why he came back! By the took a job with a house in Llanbadarn Fynydd and there he stayed for 38 years, John received his long service medal in 2007.

Geraint thanked Shirley for her talk and insight into the changing rile of Agriculture and the lives of Farm Labourers.

Gwen was able to give us additional insights as she grew up a farmer’s daughter and was expected, and did, much the same work as her brothers.  She had a hand in milking, making butter, salting bacon, picking fruit, making pickles, cutting corn, making sheaves. Then binders came on and she took a hand in this too.

As a Land Girl and mother she had to make ditches by hand – a dreadful job.

Tom was a waggoner and cowman late into the 50’s.

There was discussion of the practice on Sundays  – Particularly at harvest time. Crops could be ruined if they did not work on a Sunday. Some did and some didn’t. Some, as Jennifer had found out, gave the appearance of not working, but did work where they could not be seen from the road.

In another family ‘Father’ would not work on Sunday until the Vicar came to tea and declared when asked: “Why not!”

Notes of 5th September 2016 Meeting Main Topic – Group Projects Review

Geraint welcomed members back to this the Michaelmas Term. There was just one new member – Elizabeth Newman from the Old Vicarage at Dolau. Elizabeth has already completed a piece of work into the history if the Vicarage and the ‘goings on of an infamous past Vicar of the Parish – Rev. Richard Pugh. He was de-frocked due to scandals that it was felt better not to go into – Perhaps another time??

Elizabeth explained that the Monkey Puzzle Tree that has been a feature of the Old Vicarage garden since Victorian times was discovered to be dead, and has had to be taken down for safety reasons. She has engaged a carver to make a sculpture and much of the timber has gone to wood-turners.

Contemporary History Record – Lynda Price

Geraint asked Linda to report on her year in the history of Penybont and District. Linda has put together some beautiful scrapbooks that contain photographs, posters, and flyers, for local events. These were available and stirred a lot of interest within the group.

Llandegley School Records – Jenny

Geraint then reported on the project that Jenny has undertaken relating to the archives of Llandegley School. Jenny has been transcribing them so that the originals can be deposited with the County Archives.

(To a question on the status of the County Archives, they are currently in the process of moving to the Industrial Estate, it is providing a limited service direct to the public, but the new facility, once It is ready, should be very good.)

Unfortunately Jenny was nit well and so she was unable to tell us about how she has been getting along.  Geraint reported in the quality of the work being done by Jenny. She has been making notes alongside the transcription that reference things that are missing, the type of script, and if sections are unreadable. It will be an extremely useful and professional piece of work once it is complete.

The school records cover the period 1873 to 1953, though the school closed in 1977. There are other records of the work of the school including an acquisitions book that is quite interesting as it details the purchase of chalk and the range of materials used on a daily basis within the school.

Amongst the members present there were a few ‘old boys’ and ‘girls’ who were pupils at the school.

John A started in 1936 and conceded ‘it  was not all bad’! John remembered the war time evacuees from Liverpool who were billeted locally, some with his family. He had a particular memory that they were ‘tagged’ and he found this very sad. A particular highlight of his school career was the building of the school canteen when he was allowed off lessons to help make cement. The toilets were less than salubrious and involved burials in the garden twice a week. He remembers that there were 35 pupils in 2 classes. The infants, up to 8 years, were taught by Mrs Bull. The older children had Mrs Pugh. Mrs Pugh was a sister of the Bishop of St Asaph and Brecon. She was alleged to have had a ‘special’ relationship with the vicar – here again it is probably best to keep off this subject – Geraint agreed. Her daughter Eileen is still alive today. John had a particular memory of the distances that some of the pupils walked to get to school – anything up to 5 miles in all weathers. They and their clothes would regularly need to be dried out on the tortoise stove.

Mrs Higgins came as the school cook.  She was only 11 years when she started. Food was bought locally, though much of it was given by the local farmers. John’s family supplied milk to the school in 1/3 pint bottles. Geraint mentioned that the schools were, albeit run by the state, were seen as local charities and fund raising was a regular part of the school and community events. The harvest festival was a particular event that was part of the school calendar. John left school at 11 years just before the 1944 Education Act (Butler Act) raised the leaving age to 15 years.

Shirley’s school career started in 1954. Unlike John she and her 2 sisters enjoyed the school experience.  The teachers during her school career were Mrs Thomas and Mrs Evans, who was the wife of the Vicar. One of her memories was the punishment for swearing. A black mark was put on the tongue of the erring child. Shirley did, and passed, her 11+, which was a source of great pride for her, her family, and the school. She went on to the Grammar School with no preparation for this huge change. The first year was quite difficult.

Neil remembers that 14 was the age when most children left school after the Act came into force.

When Lynda joined the school the teachers were Mrs Duggan, Miss Williams and the cook was then Mrs Edwards.

Village Museum/Display – Geraint

Geraint was in confessional mood when he told of his spending of the proceeds of the slide show done earlier in the year. He spent the money on a set of display boards before he had discussed it with Richard who pointed out that he had mixed up Gross and Net profit and had forgotten about VAT! As a result he had to find, personally, and with some help from Richard, an additional £20.

The Boards are at the Thomas Shop where a cupboard will be made available with a view to working towards a ‘village museum’ at some point in the future.

Recording Memories – Judy

Initially called the Oral History Project, Judy said that some people were put off by the idea that anyone might be interested in their history of dentistry! Better is the ‘History of the Spoken Word’. It is not a new  idea – people have been passing on stories  for ever. Some have been turned into books. However most people do not record their memories and their stories in many instances die with them.

Recording is an easier method than writing but it is often difficult to get people to accept that their memories are worth recording, that they are in fact unique, of interest, and important.

Judy’s interest in recording stories started when she volunteered to do recordings for a Food Project being run by Ashfield. Judy was to learn that it is quite a challenging piece of work to undertake. Ashfield trained 15 people and she was the only person who fully completed her task.

The challenge includes:

  • Identifying new people
  • Setting aside time to do the recording
  • Transcribing the recording (This is more complicated than copying as in some instances this will not make sense)
  • Producing written summaries
  • Agreeing with the interviewee that they have been represented correctly

The format for storing the final material is also important. Radnorshire Museum carried out a project in 1977 when they recorded the memories of local people on cassettes. It is now not possible to listen to these cassettes as there are no longer machines to play the cassettes on, the quality of the recordings has degraded, and they have had to send them to a specialist company at serious expense to see if they can access them.

If we think that in 1000 years time people might want to access the recordings we are making it is impossible to have any idea what systems will be used. We now know that CD’s only have about a 5 year shelf life.

Writing the recordings up takes a lot of time – 1 hour of recording can take 10 hours to transcribe. Even paper degrades and so in the end Archive Paper is the best way to keep a record that will remain accessible to people almost  indefinitely.

Judy has found it best to have a topic to talk about. People find it much more difficult when they are given very open questions to answer.  The sort of question that works best is:

“Tell me about ….”

Judy would encourage everyone to record.

So far she has completed three recordings. She has prioritised older people but younger members of the community have much to add to local history.

Two short extracts from Interviews

  1. In one of the interviews with Ray Price he talked about his early experience of running the shop and of a particular instance that concerned a bullock and Epsom salts. He had a phone call from a farmer asking him if he had bey any chance some Epsom Salts for a Bullock that had swollen up to the point that he looked as though he was going to explode. Ray searched the shop and found that he had some 4oz tubs. The Bullock was saved and he had a customer for life.
  2. Ruby Griffiths spoke about family bread making during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s . Ruby was the only daughter in a family of 11 children. Bread would be made once a week. A 72 lb bag of Spiller’s flour was put into a galvanised bath, mixed with water and 4 oz of yeast. After kneading the dough would be left for 1 to 2 hours to rise. There was a bread oven in the wall that would take 5ft long shafts of wood. It was hot enough to cook the bread when it was too hot to put your elbow in the oven. The dough was split into lumps and placed on the oven floor. The loaves were about twice the size of shop loaves today. She remembers it as very satisfying bread – unlike bread today.

Geraint thanked Judy for the work she had put into this important project and for her update. He has regretted not getting Tom Price to record more of his memories – he will have to wait until they meet again!!!

A discussion followed on the many ways in which words and pictures would be best held. Paper / Vellum / electronically  / web / cloud / Facebook.

Though there were concerns about moderating it effectively it was agreed that access to the materials would be enhanced by developing a Facebook Presence. Lynda agreed to explore setting this up.

Future Events

Geraint said that Frank Morgan had agreed to show some of his videos in an event similar to the slide show event in last year’s programme.

Shirley is leading on our next meeting on the 3rd October 2016 when she will talk on “The Lives of Agricultural Workers”

Derek will talk about Local Post Offices on 7th November 2016.

Notes of 5th September 2016 Meeting Main Topic – Group Projects Review

Geraint welcomed members back to this the Michaelmas Term. There was just one new member – Elizabeth Newman from the Old Vicarage at Dolau. Elizabeth has already completed a piece of work into the history if the Vicarage and the ‘goings on of an infamous past Vicar of the Parish – Rev. Richard Pugh. He was de-frocked due to scandals that it was felt better not to go into – Perhaps another time??

Elizabeth explained that the Monkey Puzzle Tree that has been a feature of the Old Vicarage garden since Victorian times was discovered to be dead, and has had to be taken down for safety reasons. She has engaged a carver to make a sculpture and much of the timber has gone to wood-turners.

Contemporary History Record – Lynda Price

Geraint asked Linda to report on her year in the history of Penybont and District. Linda has put together some beautiful scrapbooks that contain photographs, posters, and flyers, for local events. These were available and stirred a lot of interest within the group.

Llandegley School Records – Jenny

Geraint then reported on the project that Jenny has undertaken relating to the archives of Llandegley School. Jenny has been transcribing them so that the originals can be deposited with the County Archives.

(To a question on the status of the County Archives, they are currently in the process of moving to the Industrial Estate, it is providing a limited service direct to the public, but the new facility, once It is ready, should be very good.)

Unfortunately Jenny was nit well and so she was unable to tell us about how she has been getting along.  Geraint reported in the quality of the work being done by Jenny. She has been making notes alongside the transcription that reference things that are missing, the type of script, and if sections are unreadable. It will be an extremely useful and professional piece of work once it is complete.

The school records cover the period 1873 to 1953, though the school closed in 1977. There are other records of the work of the school including an acquisitions book that is quite interesting as it details the purchase of chalk and the range of materials used on a daily basis within the school.

Amongst the members present there were a few ‘old boys’ and ‘girls’ who were pupils at the school.

John A started in 1936 and conceded ‘it  was not all bad’! John remembered the war time evacuees from Liverpool who were billeted locally, some with his family. He had a particular memory that they were ‘tagged’ and he found this very sad. A particular highlight of his school career was the building of the school canteen when he was allowed off lessons to help make cement. The toilets were less than salubrious and involved burials in the garden twice a week. He remembers that there were 35 pupils in 2 classes. The infants, up to 8 years, were taught by Mrs Bull. The older children had Mrs Pugh. Mrs Pugh was a sister of the Bishop of St Asaph and Brecon. She was alleged to have had a ‘special’ relationship with the vicar – here again it is probably best to keep off this subject – Geraint agreed. Her daughter Eileen is still alive today. John had a particular memory of the distances that some of the pupils walked to get to school – anything up to 5 miles in all weathers. They and their clothes would regularly need to be dried out on the tortoise stove.

Mrs Higgins came as the school cook.  She was only 11 years when she started. Food was bought locally, though much of it was given by the local farmers. John’s family supplied milk to the school in 1/3 pint bottles. Geraint mentioned that the schools were, albeit run by the state, were seen as local charities and fund raising was a regular part of the school and community events. The harvest festival was a particular event that was part of the school calendar. John left school at 11 years just before the 1944 Education Act (Butler Act) raised the leaving age to 15 years.

Shirley’s school career started in 1954. Unlike John she and her 2 sisters enjoyed the school experience.  The teachers during her school career were Mrs Thomas and Mrs Evans, who was the wife of the Vicar. One of her memories was the punishment for swearing. A black mark was put on the tongue of the erring child. Shirley did, and passed, her 11+, which was a source of great pride for her, her family, and the school. She went on to the Grammar School with no preparation for this huge change. The first year was quite difficult.

Neil remembers that 14 was the age when most children left school after the Act came into force.

When Lynda joined the school the teachers were Mrs Duggan, Miss Williams and the cook was then Mrs Edwards.

Village Museum/Display – Geraint

Geraint was in confessional mood when he told of his spending of the proceeds of the slide show done earlier in the year. He spent the money on a set of display boards before he had discussed it with Richard who pointed out that he had mixed up Gross and Net profit and had forgotten about VAT! As a result he had to find, personally, and with some help from Richard, an additional £20.

The Boards are at the Thomas Shop where a cupboard will be made available with a view to working towards a ‘village museum’ at some point in the future.

Recording Memories – Judy

Initially called the Oral History Project, Judy said that some people were put off by the idea that anyone might be interested in their history of dentistry! Better is the ‘History of the Spoken Word’. It is not a new  idea – people have been passing on stories  for ever. Some have been turned into books. However most people do not record their memories and their stories in many instances die with them.

Recording is an easier method than writing but it is often difficult to get people to accept that their memories are worth recording, that they are in fact unique, of interest, and important.

Judy’s interest in recording stories started when she volunteered to do recordings for a Food Project being run by Ashfield. Judy was to learn that it is quite a challenging piece of work to undertake. Ashfield trained 15 people and she was the only person who fully completed her task.

The challenge includes:

  • Identifying new people
  • Setting aside time to do the recording
  • Transcribing the recording (This is more complicated than copying as in some instances this will not make sense)
  • Producing written summaries
  • Agreeing with the interviewee that they have been represented correctly

The format for storing the final material is also important. Radnorshire Museum carried out a project in 1977 when they recorded the memories of local people on cassettes. It is now not possible to listen to these cassettes as there are no longer machines to play the cassettes on, the quality of the recordings has degraded, and they have had to send them to a specialist company at serious expense to see if they can access them.

If we think that in 1000 years time people might want to access the recordings we are making it is impossible to have any idea what systems will be used. We now know that CD’s only have about a 5 year shelf life.

Writing the recordings up takes a lot of time – 1 hour of recording can take 10 hours to transcribe. Even paper degrades and so in the end Archive Paper is the best way to keep a record that will remain accessible to people almost  indefinitely.

Judy has found it best to have a topic to talk about. People find it much more difficult when they are given very open questions to answer.  The sort of question that works best is:

“Tell me about ….”

Judy would encourage everyone to record.

So far she has completed three recordings. She has prioritised older people but younger members of the community have much to add to local history.

Two short extracts from Interviews

  1. In one of the interviews with Ray Price he talked about his early experience of running the shop and of a particular instance that concerned a bullock and Epsom salts. He had a phone call from a farmer asking him if he had bey any chance some Epsom Salts for a Bullock that had swollen up to the point that he looked as though he was going to explode. Ray searched the shop and found that he had some 4oz tubs. The Bullock was saved and he had a customer for life.
  2. Ruby Griffiths spoke about family bread making during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s . Ruby was the only daughter in a family of 11 children. Bread would be made once a week. A 72 lb bag of Spiller’s flour was put into a galvanised bath, mixed with water and 4 oz of yeast. After kneading the dough would be left for 1 to 2 hours to rise. There was a bread oven in the wall that would take 5ft long shafts of wood. It was hot enough to cook the bread when it was too hot to put your elbow in the oven. The dough was split into lumps and placed on the oven floor. The loaves were about twice the size of shop loaves today. She remembers it as very satisfying bread – unlike bread today.

Geraint thanked Judy for the work she had put into this important project and for her update. He has regretted not getting Tom Price to record more of his memories – he will have to wait until they meet again!!!

A discussion followed on the many ways in which words and pictures would be best held. Paper / Vellum / electronically  / web / cloud / Facebook.

Though there were concerns about moderating it effectively it was agreed that access to the materials would be enhanced by developing a Facebook Presence. Lynda agreed to explore setting this up.

Future Events

Geraint said that Frank Morgan had agreed to show some of his videos in an event similar to the slide show event in last year’s programme.

Shirley is leading on our next meeting on the 3rd October 2016 when she will talk on “The Lives of Agricultural Workers”

Derek will talk about Local Post Offices on 7th November 2016.

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.

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.

Notes of 9th May 2016 Meeting Main Topic – A History of the Severn Family – Mary Davies

Geraint opened the meeting welcoming everyone. He reminded members that the next meeting would be on 6th June when Dai Hawkins would be talking about the Welsh Language in Radnorshire. The meeting in July has had to be rescheduled from the 4th July to the 11th July when we will be visiting the Heronry at Penybont Hall, at the invitation of Richard Morgan, and then on to Cwmroches Reserve.

Derek confirmed the arrangements for the Walk on Penybont Common when we hope to find evidence of: the Settlement at Caertwch, Ridge and furrow land usage; a sheepfold; the Roman Road; and the Bronze Age Barrow.

Geraint welcomed Mary to talk on the Main Topic: The History of the Severn Family

  1. John Cheesment –        Sarah Grace

1731to 1783 (London)                      1765 to 1795 (Ireland)

We know from a previous talk concerning the Thomas Shop and the life of John Price that his daughter Mary Ann, albeit illegitimate, was just 6 years old when her father died in 1798 and inherited the bulk of his considerable fortune. While she was still under the guidance of her legal Guardians at the age of 18 years she met John Cheesment Severn, aged 30 years, and was greatly smitten to the extent that he saw off all other suitors and they were married in Worcester on 30th December 1811, during a terrible storm. As was the way of things pertaining to the family all was not straight forward. Having obtained permission to marry from the Guardians and subsequently moved to Penybont Hall, John found that one of the Guardians was resident at the Hall. A court case was to follow after John evicted the family and the wife of the Guardian died. That Julian Fellows crafted Downton Abbey on the goings on at and around Penybont Hall had its foundations from a very much earlier time. The parentage of John Cheesment Severn also has an air of intrigue. His father Captain John Cheesment of London was 47 when he met his wife to be. She, Sarah, was just 17 years old and from Graceville, Castle Dermot, Co. Kildare in Ireland. Capt John died just three years after his marriage. John Wesley, who was a friend of John Cheesment Severn, wrote about Capt. John’s death and referred to the lifestyle of his friend’s father. Capt. John had become a wealthy man who, having lost his fortune only to be rescued by his friends, went on to make another fortune, and John Wesley wrote:

“A few years ago he married one equally agreeable in person and temper. So what had he to do but enjoy himself?” Geraint seemed to agree!

Capt. John was described as a Commander of the Britannia East Indiaman, and Master Mariner of Mile End. Fortunes were made on the ‘silk road’ and Capt. John clearly did well from modest beginnings. His older brother Joseph remained in the North East and was said to be a cordwainer or shoemaker of Sunderland.

The Cheements/Cheesmans could not be described as gentry but within the historical records Edward Cheesman was a cofferer for Henry VII; that is he managed the King’s budget or coffers. A portrait of Edward is displayed in Penybont Hall.

Capt. John did not have a long time to enjoy his fortune and his new young wife. He died after only three years of marriage. Sarah, now only 20 years, and with the young John Cheesment to bring up, went on to marry a wealthy Scandinavian timber merchant, ship broker and banker, George Wolf. They lived in the Parish of St. George’s near Wapping Dock. (By coincidence Mary had her own connections with St George’s Parish and teaching classes of 45 pupils.) The area was in social decline at this time and the Wolf family moved to Baltham House in Surrey.

  1. John Cheesment Severn –        Mary Ann Price

1781 to 1875 (Londodn/Penybont)               1793 to 1876 (Penybont)

John lost his second parent, his mother Sarah, by the time he was 14 years old. Two surviving children were born to Sarah and George, Sarah Augusta and Inger Maria. Three other children died young. John’s step-father however continued with his education and John was elected to Eton in 1796, a year after his mother died, and he went on to study at Oxford. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1801 and called to the Bar in 1807 a year when he also became MP for Wootton Bassett. He was a founder member of the Carlton Club. The mystery and intrigue around John and the change in his name from John Cheesment to John Cheesment Severn is also associated with 1807, for it was in this year that he:

“… being desirous out of affectionate regard to the memory of William Severn late of Pall Mall, Esq., diseased to take and use the surname of Severn in lieu of his present surname of Cheesment was authorised by Royal Liceince dated August 1807 to do so.” (Squires of Penybont Hall –R.C.B. Oliver). Who William Severn was, and why he played such an important part in the life of John Cheesment, is largely unknown. A William Severn married a Sarah Hyde in the Parish of St. George’s in 1803. Sarah’s family residence was Hopley Court, Worcestershire. It is probably not a coincidence that John Cheesment (now) Severn married Mary Ann Price in St Nicholas Church, Worcester. Despite the fact that John had probably paid handsomely for the privilege of becoming an MP for the ‘Rotten’ constituency, he had applied successfully to be a ‘Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds’, a euphemism for being allowed to resign his seat in Parliament. Corruption associated with the constituency of Wootton Bassett seems to have been associated with this seat, but whether it applied to John Cheesment Severn is not known. The use of the word ‘rotten’ might suggest something untoward but in this case a rotten constituency referred to a constituency that had insufficient population to support an MP. The MP who succeeded John to this constituency was a Benjamin Walsh who was declared bankrupt having spent £4000 in securing his seat in Parliament.

In marrying Mary Ann Price, John Cheesment Severn was able to substantially increase his estate and within three years of his marriage he had risen in Radnorshire society to the office of High Sheriff, 1811 and following in the footsteps of his father-in-law John Price, 1787. In the same year he also became Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County. In addition to his property John also became involved in Banking and was associated with the Bank at Kington which his father-in-law also had dealings.

Prior to his marriage John did have connections, and did acquire some land, within Radnorshire as his step-sister, Sarah Augusta Wolf, had married Edward Rogers who had a property near Knighton – Stanage. It is not known whether it was through this link that the couple met, other theories include possible meetings in Worcester or London. John’s other step-sister, Inger Maria Wolf married Rev. G.D. Whitehead whose grandson, in a twist of fate, came to Penybont Hall some years later.

 

John and Mary Ann’s marriage was fruitful and Mary Ann gave birth to four children, Sarah (1812), Percy (1814), Emily (1815), and Julia (1817). None of these four children were to marry. John had Penybont Hall largely rebuilt by 1818 into what was described as a fine Classical Georgian or Regency House. As a Country Gentleman John took on duties to do with the management of the Turnpike Road and became a Magistrate. In addition to his duties John also found himself on the receiving end of the Justices. In 1822 he was found guilty of causing damage and injury to crops and vegetables of a Septimus Minton; and in 1849 he was fined for three separate encroachments on Rhos Swydd Common.

In 1830 John, notwithstanding having only completed 1 year in Parliament in 1807/8, entered Parliament again for the Constituency of Fowey in Cornwall. This was another ‘rotten’ Borough and the constituency was dissolved in 1832.

In 1833 there is reference to a visit to Penybont Hall by Capt. Sir John B. Walsh. Capt.  Walsh describes Mrs Severn as a ‘quiet, ladylike woman’, but he refers to Mr Severn as ‘not very popular’, ‘rather near’, and ‘ostentatious’. This however was qualified by Capt. Walsh as he went on to say he was ‘obliging’ and ‘gentleman like in manners’. He was clearly a man who looked after his own interests, in pursuit of which he is best remembered for moving the Golden Fleece Inn, established by John Price in 1755 as the New Inn, from being adjacent to the Hall on the other side of the River Ithon, and to its present site as the Severn Arms Hotel (1840). This new facility gave rise to the Annual Card and Dancing Assembly, otherwise known as Penybont Ball, in 1841.

The movement of the Inn gave some added privacy to Penybont Hall. As a Trustee of the Turnpike, John had also been involved in the realignment of the road past the Hall in the 1830s, this again giving more privacy to the Hall.

As Magistrates, John, and his son Percy, were called into action to in 1843 to discuss with the Rebecca Riots in the Severn Arms Hotel. The Rioters entered Rhayader and pull down 4 gates and a toll house. The ring leaders were sentenced to 20 years transportation, but the ensuing Royal Commission made significant concessions to the grievances of the rioters.

Mary mentioned that John’s father had a close connection with John Wesley but John’s affiliations were not to the Methodist Church but to the Anglican tradition. There is evidence of his presence in the Churches at Llanbadarn Fawr, Llandegley, and Cefn Llys. Mary Ann was a considerable contributor to Charity and in supporting the local Churches she was also a known to have been generous in her contributions to Rock Chapel.

John was 94 when he died; Mary Ann survived him by 1 year and was herself 83 years. This meant that their 4 children were middle aged by the time of their parents death.

  1. John Percy Severn

1814 – 1900

Percy, like his father, was a graduate of Eton and Oxford where he achieved an MA. He travelled widely in his youth and was described as courteous, cultured, and intelligent. Unlike his father he was popular in the community. Percy also practiced as a Barrister at Lincoln’s Inn; and travelled across South Wales as a Revising Barrister sitting in Cardigan, Pembroke, and Brecon.

Percy followed in his father’s footsteps on other regards. He was a member of the Carlton Club; he became High Sheriff of Radnorshire (1873) and was also a Deputy Lieutenant. As mentioned earlier he was also a Magistrate. He was very much the Country Gentleman and Squire. He hunted, liked shooting and kept dogs, he bred Welsh Cobs and was a staunch supporter and founder member of the Radnorshire Agricultural Society.  His father had planted a number of trees and shrubs around the Hall and Percy added to the collection. He took a keen interest in the heronry that had established itself within the grounds. After his father died Percy extended the Hall to add a third floor and ‘Victorianised’ it by building the gables into the roof. He also added the 2 ‘folly towers’ that were detached from the main building.  One tower was round and the other square. It is said that Percy would sometimes retreat to the round tower. This tower was taken down more recently whereas the square Tower is still a feature of the property today but the round tower has been taken down.

When John Cheesement Severn died he left his children well endowed for the future. He had probably hoped that his daughters would marry but this was not to be. It was the churches in the locality that benefitted hugely from the patronage of the sisters and Percy.

The church at Llanbadarn Fawr was completely rebuilt in 1878/79 due entirely to the generousity of the sisters. This was a few after the church at Llandegley was similarly rebuilt by the Severn family in 1874/76.  Percy supported the rebuilding of Llanddewi and and Cefn Llys. The interest in Rock Chapel continued from their mother and Percy supported the development of the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Penybont. There was a schoolroom within the Penybont Chapel and a school did run here for a short period. Percy was actively involved in the support and development of school facilities in the area. He was Chair of the new Llanbadarn Fawr Board School 1878 and was still Chair when he died in 1900. An annual ‘Scholars Tea’ was given by Percy to all of the scholars at the school and this merited a day’s holiday. Holidays were fairly frequent as, despite the introduction of compulsory education, labour was needed on the land. As a magistrate Percy would meet some of the families in Court but he would be very reluctant to act against them.

In researching Rhos Common another story reflecting Percy’s humanity came to light in that he was reluctant to take action against people who were found to be encroaching onto the Common. It was said that this was because he did not want to appear unpopular but equally he was probably also concerned about the second and third sons of local farmers who could not find land to work on and to stay living in the locality. These young men would be very important to the overall management of his 4000 acres and therefore he had a vested interest in their ability to find land of their own.

While Percy as a person, landlord, and public figure was widely respected, the decision he made with respect to the railway, in the period 1862 to 1866, was to have on the future of the village as an important centre in Radnorshire. He was concerned that the railway, of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, might pass close to the Hall so he gave a part of Cwmtrallwm Farm as a free site for Penybont Station. This meant that the station was built about 1 mile from the village; this single decision probably heralded the slow decline of the village in favour of Llandrindod Wells, and the gradual loss of amenity within the village.

Very little appears in the literature about the three sisters other than their good works associated with the local churches. Julia was said to be something of a recluse. They all lived long lives: Sarah was 79 years when she died; Percy 86 years; Emily 91 years; and Julia 90 years. Geraint who has also researched the family feels very frustrated as there are no dairies or journals from the three sisters and he feels that they must have written them. Emily succeeded her brother and inherited the estate, living on a further 6 years. She followed in the footsteps of her older brother in some respects. She was Chair of the Board of Llanbadarn Fawr School and President of the Radnorshire Agricultural Show. Her country roots were similar to those of her brother and she was a supporter of the Sheep Dog Trials.

  1. Emily Augusta Severn

1815 -1906

When Emily Augusta died in 1906 the praise for her life and charitable work was written up by Dr Jordon as a delivered by the Rector of the time. Famously he quoted Proverbs xxxi. 29 – “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” He describes her “pre-eminently stands out as one who could and should inspire us with emulation to go and do likewise….gracious presence……infinite sweetness…nowhere else but in lovely Wales…..At what cost Miss Severn and her two sisters restored Llanbadarn Church is neither fitting to the time to say here, but it is right to say that it was a labour of love, a lasting monument to a beautiful life, that was spent within her tenantry of late years as the “Lady of Shunem”……Her great heart is built into these sculptured stones, into the beautiful new organ, and the new vestry! Generations which will follow our own will see these offerings made to God. How beautiful it all is!”

  1. Julia Severn

1817 – 1907

The youngest of the sisters Julia lived in Llandrindod for the last 25 years of her life. She lived in Tremont House as a virtual recluse. She left a considerable sum to the Cottage Hospital in Llandrindod.

These various philanthropic acts have continued through Charitable Trusts that still goes on today. Geraint has been involved over the years in administering one of these Trusts in Penybont for the ‘poor of the Parish’, a task that he remembers with some affection. He and Lord Ormathwaite (who became Squire of Penybont Hall) would meet around Christmas time in the Snug at the Hall. There would be a roaring fire, sherry, 50 £1 notes, and envelopes all prepared to distribute to the needy in the Parish.

Talk of these deaths led to a discussion about the Severn Vault in the Churchyard at Llanbadarn Church. Neil was most interested to know if Geraint had been into it. He had and he ventured in with Neil’s father. An eerie place shrouded in yew trees.

  1. Major General R.C. Whitehead –        Sarah Ann Jones

1833 – 1910 (Cumberland/Penybont) 1858 to 1926 (London/Penybont)

The Severn Family came to an end with the death of Julia but Emily had passed on the inheritance to Major General Whitehead who was the youngest grandson of Capt. John Cheesments wife Sarah and her second husband George Wolf, who Mary had referred to earlier. John Cheesment Severn had two step sisters Sarah Augusta and Inger Maria. All of Sarah Augusta’s children died before their father Edward Rogers. Inger Maria married Rev. G.D. Whitehead and had three children. The eldest Col. George never married, but was said to have ‘gone native’ in India and had 4 children. Her second son died without having any heirs, and so by force of circumstance the Major General inherited with his wife Sarah Ann (Jones). The Major, who had lost a leg battle, was seen as respectable, albeit he had married a barmaid.

  1. Downton Abbey

To complete the picture Mary returned to the fictional characters associated with Downton Abbey and Julian Fellows interpretation of life at Penybont Hall. The Daily Mail article ‘I?’ – “And Downton Abbey is modelled on the aristocratic pile Penybont Hall, where Lord Fellowes’ ancestors were not masters – servants.”

If one goes back 150 years you would find Julian’s great grandfather Pat McIntosh as a working class man from Scotland working his way up to becoming the manager under Percy of the 4000 acre Penybont estate. Pat and his wife had 4 children who probably all worked at the Hall from time to time. One of the children, Emily, told Julian of life at the Hall and inspired the stories that were to make Downton Abbey such a success. The Earl of Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, in the series was said to have been based upon the character and activity of Percy. (According to Rev. Geraint Hughes, a local historian, life at Penybont Hall was similar to Downton Abbey!)

Marion referred to an ancestor of hers who had, at the time when Capt. John Cheesment was engaged in the silk trade, been also been involved with the East India Company and had possible connections with John Cheesment. Marion has an Anglo-Indian background and her family returned to the UK due to complications with a snake bite.

In thanking Mary for her excellent talk Geriant told a story about the Bishop who often dined at the Hall. Children would be invited to come to the table for the dessert course. He would entertain the children with a mechanical toy which would be concealed under the tablecloth.

Geraint also told members of a change to the Programme in July. The walk to the Heronry will now be on the 11th July as Richard Morgan from the Hall has kindly agreed to guide the walk in the Hall grounds. We will then go on to the Reserve at Cwmroches.

The next Meeting will be at the Thomas Shop on 6th June at 10.30 a.m. when Dai Hawkins will talk about the decline of the Welsh Language in Radnorshire.