How Lucky We Are To Live In Wenvoe

How Lucky We Are To Live In Wenvoe

Wenvoe Walkers have been unable to enjoy their usual walks in the countryside due to the restrictions in place but most of us have walked around the village and its environs. Initially I was walking alone and enjoying brief conversations with other walkers and friends from the village if our paths happened to cross. More recently it has been possible to walk with one other household and share the experience. This article is a reflection on the many different routes I have walked rather than the usual single route.

How lucky we are to live in Wenvoe surrounded by countryside with a good network of footpaths. The Wenvoe Wildlife group’s Orchid field and Orchards formed the basis of my first forays. The Spring weather was exceptional and I found joy in finding bright marigolds in the Elizabethan orchard in April sunshine, apple blossom smothered in foraging bees in the Welsh orchard with Buzzards soaring overhead and more birds and insects than I have seen for years. For the first time I noticed catkins on oak trees – I expect Bruce has mentioned them in one of his articles – this is the pedunculate oak (Quercus robur). Did I see so much because it was so quiet, wildlife was not disturbed or are there truly more of them this year?

The golf course was a particular pleasure with the access road free of all traffic apart from the few people living and working there or at the farms. The freedom to roam (keeping off the greens of course) and gaze at the views not normally available whilst admiring the range of trees was a real bonus.

Within walking distance, we have so much available to us:

Travel east via Station Road, across the main road via the bridge (or at times stroll across there was so little traffic) and you can do a simple circuit back towards the quarry, or go via Wrinstone ( the footpath through Wrinstone farm was closed) to Salmon leaps, Cwrt-yr -ala and Michaelstone-le-Pit or venture further to Dinas meadows, the Avenue of Beech trees (which I call the cathedral), Cwm George and Casehill woods returning past Dinas golf course and Beauville farm.

Dinas Powys hill fort is on a ridge between Cwm George gorge and the river valley. It is thought to have been built in 450 BC and is the richest best preserved and most fully excavated early medieval settlement in Wales as well as the most important in Europe for this period. Its size and the rich finds, including a rare Saxon horn goblet, point towards this being the residence of a VIP. It might even have been the court of the kings of Glamorgan.

Did you know that Wrinstone farm is on the site of a medieval village? Earthworks around the farmstead indicate quite a large settlement. Wrinstone served as the manor house to Michaelston-le-Pit for many centuries. In the late 13thC it passed to Sir Simon de Ralegh (a relative of Sir Walter Raleigh). Cwrt-yr- Ala House (the court of Raleigh) became the estate seat when the family moved. However, the name was not used until long after the connection had ceased. (information from ‘Wenvoe past and present’ a Wenvoe History Group publication).

To the west we have Burdons hill (have you seen the aeroplane on the side of the garage belonging to one of the houses?), Pound lane, Wenvoe wood, Goldsland wood, Coed Nant Bran, St Lythans church and the burial chamber, Tinkinswood burial chamber, Dyffryn and Dyffryn fisheries (but sadly no access to Dyffryn House and Gardens), St Nicholas, and last but not least all the farmland of our local farms of which there are many.

To the north you can visit Twyn-yr- Odyn, The Downs and the Natural Burial ground (or maybe venture to Culverhouse Cross for food) and to the south the Crematorium.

It has been great to talk to people and be reminded of footpaths forgotten. At times I was aware that I was walking in the footsteps of people long gone and the sense that it was my turn now to tread these ancient paths. The silence created by the loss of traffic enabled me to hear nature’s sounds and helped transport me back in time. My walks have been many and varied (no waterways though apart from Wrinstone and Cadoxton Brooks and distant views of the channel) and range from just a couple of miles to 8 miles. The most joyous moments came from meeting friends and nature: drifts of wild garlic followed by orchids and drifts of bluebells, leopard’s bane, new-born lambs, butterflies and birds taking wing, towering trees. and the whole covered by many scents including garlic, bluebells and lilac. 2020 is definitely a spring to be remembered.

 

 



 

Wenvoe’s Part In The Battle Of Trafalgar

Wenvoe’s Part In The Battle Of Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar (21 October, 1805) is probably Britain’s most famous naval victory. The main facts are well known. The Royal Navy led by Admiral Lord Nelson, aboard HMS Victory, defeated a larger combined French and Spanish fleet under the command of the French Admiral Villeneuve. In what was to prove a key event in the Napoleonic Wars, victory confirmed the naval supremacy Britain had established during the course of the 18th century. Nelson was shot by a French musketeer and died of his wounds. Villeneuve was captured, along with his ship Bucentaure and later attended Nelson’s funeral while a captive on parole in Britain.

What is less known, but of interest to us, is that Frederick Jennings Thomas, originally of Wenvoe, played a significant part in the battle. Frederick was born 19 April 1786, the younger son of Sir John Thomas, fifth baronet of Wenvoe Castle, and his wife, Mary. He entered the navy in March 1799 and by 1803, while serving on the Prince of Wales flagship of Sir Robert Calder, was present during several important naval actions. On 19 September of the same year, he was appointed Acting-Lieutenant of HMS Spartiate, an appointment that led him to the Battle of Trafalgar. During the battle the Spartiate, with Frederick playing a key role, forced the surrender of the 80 gun Spanish ship Neptuno. The Spartiate was damaged in the fierce fighting, but there were only three killed (two seamen & one boy) and twenty wounded.

Until 1814, Frederick served on the Spartiate and other ships in the Mediterranean, finally commanding the San Juan, flagship of Rear-Admiral Linzee at Gibraltar. The San Juan had been captured by the Royal Navy at Trafalgar following a heroic fight led by its commander, Don Cosme Churruca. During the battle, Churruca had ordered the Spanish flag to be nailed to the highest mast, as a way to tell everyone involved not to expect an easy surrender. With a decimated crew, and despite being mortally wounded as a result of having a leg torn off by a cannonball, Churruca refused to submit. Even following their Commander’s death, his officers kept their word. It was the last one alive who finally yielded, to save the ship and lives of the crew. In recognition of Churruca’s courage, the commander’s cabin on the San Juan was given a brass plate in his honour. All who entered it, including Frederick, were required to remove their hats as a mark of respect for a gallant enemy.

Frederick Jennings Thomas retired from active service in 1814 settling down to family life. He stayed in the public eye, writing on naval matters and even inventing a lifeboat with three keels, so designed to prevent capsizing. It also seems that he was the first person to propose a pier at Brighton. Having accepted the retired rank of Rear-Admiral, Frederick died near Southampton, on 19 December 1855.

 

 



 

Wenvoe’s Part In A Game Of Thrones

WENVOE’S PART IN A GAME OF THRONES

As Brexit heralds an uncertain future, it is worth a look back to what was going on in Wenvoe and other Vale villages during the turbulent summers of 1648 and 1649. Following a prolonged period of civil war between King and Parliament, our community was torn apart by the nearby Battle of St Fagans and in 1649 by the shocking trial and execution of King Charles I.


Civil wars are often the bitterest of conflicts dividing family members and friends alike. Ordinary people in Wenvoe however, probably did not understand what the war was about. For centuries they had been loyal to their King and Parliament. Farm labourers and their families in the local community suddenly found themselves on one side or the other. This decision was made for them by their social superiors and landlords, several of whom actually changed sides during the conflict.
The uncertainty and impact of these events must have been frightening. This cartoon from the time ‘The world turn’d upside down: or, A briefe description of the ridiculous fashions of these distracted times’ summed up how people would have felt about the perilous times in which they lived. It was a clever image summing up how ordinary life was undergoing strange and unpredictable change.
Local people had already suffered greatly in the years of conflict before 1648. Officials warned villagers if they didn’t pay wartime taxes they would be subject ‘at your peril of pillaging and plundering, and your houses fired and your persons imprisoned.’ Apart from those conscripted to fight, skilled craftsmen were forced to leave their homes to work for the armies.
The battle itself, in May 1648, involved around 11,000 men. It ended in victory for the well paid, trained and equipped Parliamentarian
forces. The Royalist army, who had hoped to restore Charles I to the throne, was routed. Many men from surrounding villages were ‘volunteered’ to join the Royalist army and bring their homemade weapons such as Welsh bills (a farming implement similar to a scythe) and clubs to the fight in the face of the cavalry, pikes, muskets and canon of the professional armies. The brutal fighting, much of which was close at hand, was reminiscent of what we saw in TV’s recent Game of Thrones. The exit wound of a musket shot was the size of a dinner plate and it was no surprise therefore that the River Ely was said to have flowed red with blood.
In the days following the battle, locals who had already witnessed horrific scenes and injuries were forced to help with mass burials of several hundred dead. One burial mound, which can still be found at Duffryn, is said to be the resting place of Royalists caught and killed when fleeing after the battle. Soldiers did not wear dog tags so once inevitably stripped of all possessions, bodies could not be identified. In local villages, the bereaved families never knew what happened to their loved ones. Survivors faced plundering at the hands of victorious soldiers. Diseases like bubonic plague and dysentery were spread by both armies. Farms were ruined. With food stores and farm animals seized for army use, starvation was inevitable. Vengeance was rife. Miles Button of Duffryn was captured and fined £5000 for his part on the Royalist side in the battle. His annual income was £400. His brother wasn’t so lucky. He was tried and executed for treason.
And what of the loyalty shown by our farm labourers to the King? Already by June 14th a poster appeared in Cowbridge calling all able bodied men between 16 and 60 to rendezvous with weapons and horse ready to fight for Parliament.

 



 

Old Docks Offices In Barry

 

If you’ve travelled along Ffordd y Mileniwm from Palmerston to the Barry Waterfront, you will have passed by one of the most iconic buildings in the area. This imposing building looks out over Barry Island – but at one time it faced the busy Barry Docks and housed the Docks Offices.

Barry docks office building

At the end of the nineteenth century a group of industrialists got together under the leadership of David Davies of Llandinam and with financial investment from John Cory of Tŷ’r Dyffryn, amongst others, to develop new docks in Barry for the exporting of the coal mined in their mines in the Rhondda Valley. The Chief Engineer of the docks project was John Wolfe Barry – who had also been involved in the construction of Tower Bridge in London. Interestingly, one of the other engineers who worked on the docks project was Henry Marc Brunel – the son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The headquarters of the Barry Docks and Railway Company was built between 1897 and 1900, designed by architect Arthur E. Bell after the style of Christopher Wren. It cost £59,000 to build and an imposing bronze statue of David Davies stands in front of it today. The statue is the work of Alfred Gilbert, the man who designed the statue of Eros in London. A copy of the David Davies statue stands beside the A470 in his home village of Llandinam in mid Wales.

This building exhibits many interesting and unusual features. It is one of a number of buildings which are found all over the world called ‘calendar buildings’. Other examples are Avon Tyrrell House in Hampshire, Cairness House in Aberdeenshire, Adare Manor near Limerick, Schloss Eggenberg in Graz in Austria and so on. The features seen in such buildings are a reflection of various numbers in a calendar.

In our building in Barry there are 4 floors (4 seasons in a year), 52 marble fireplaces (52 weeks in a year),

12 panels in the porch (12 months in a year), 2 circular windows – one on each side of the porch representing the Sun and the Moon, 7 lights behind the traceried fanlight window (7 days in a week), 365 windows (365 days in a year) and a staircase made of Portland stone, which consists of 31 stairs (31 days in most months).

In 1984 much of the building was destroyed by fire, but fortunately, it was rebuilt and today can be seen in its former glory. It now houses the offices of the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

 

 

Ann M. Jones

 



 

WHO WAS NYE BEVAN?

 

As widely publicised, this month sees the National Health Service, celebrate its 70th birthday. The man most closely associated with the foundation of the NHS was a Welshman, Aneurin Bevan.

Most of us will have at some time passed the statute of Aneurin Bevan at the west end of Queen Street and also seen the striking painting of the famous Welshman while visiting the clinics at the Heath Hospital. But what of the man who as Minister of Health in the post-war Attlee Government (1945-51) led the creation and establishment of the NHS?

Aneurin Bevan was born at 32 Charles Street, Tredegar, on 15th November 1897. It was one of a long row of four-roomed miners' cottages. He was the sixth of ten children born to Phoebe and David Bevan, of whom only eight survived infancy and only six to adulthood.

His mother Phoebe was not interested in politics but as a typical Welsh ‘mam’ dominated matters in the home and was a strict disciplinarian. His father David Bevan was a Tredegar miner and active trade-unionist. As with many miners, he suffered from the choking black dust disease pneumoconiosis. It was a disease that was to eventually kill him.

Bevan disliked school and was often in conflict with William Orchard, headmaster of Sirhowy School. On one occasion, Orchard asked one of his friends why he had not been to school the day before and when he replied that it was his brother's turn to wear the shoes, he mocked him. Bevan reacted by throwing an inkwell at his headmaster. At the age of eleven he worked long hours after school and weekends as a butcher's boy. On his thirteenth birthday, in November 1910, he went to work with his father in the Ty-Tryst colliery for 7 shillings (35p) a week. Bevan joined the Tredegar branch of the South Wales Miners’ Federation and soon became a union activist. By the time he was nineteen he was chairman of his Miners' Lodge and a powerful speaker. His employers considered him to be nothing less than a revolutionary. In 1917 he was called up under the Conscription Act, but refused to join the British Army claiming he would choose his own enemy and battlefield. He was however eventually rejected on health grounds, as he suffered from an eye condition.

In 1919 Bevan he won a scholarship to the Central Labour in London, where promising young trade unionists could learn about Labour Party history and Marxism. While at college he was given elocution lessons and overcame his long time stammer by giving speeches in public whenever possible. The early 1920s were difficult for Bevan with some collieries refusing to employ the young firebrand and others offering only temporary employment due to the poor state of the economy. When the General

Strike broke out in 1926 Bevan soon emerged as one of the leaders of the South Wales miners. However, following the defeat of the strike he seems to have decided that politics would offer a more fruitful opportunity to make a difference and after a short spell as a councillor he was elected as MP for Ebbw Vale. He represented the Labour Party in the constituency for the next 31 years. In 1934 he married Jennie Lee, a fellow socialist and MP for North Lanarkshire.

In the years leading to World War II, Bevan argued that Britain should ally herself with socialist countries against the march of fascism. This stance proved very unpopular and even led to him being expelled from the Labour Party for a short time. During the war he was appointed by Winston Churchill to the wartime coalition government, as Minister of Labour. When the war ended Bevan like most of his Labour Party colleagues saw a great opportunity to build a new society based on socialist principles. Bevan was particularly keen on the manifesto commitment to create a National Health Service.

As the Attlee Government went to work on its radical programme, Aneurin Bevan as Minister of Health, became the leading light in the establishment of the NHS. In 1946 Parliament passed the revolutionary National Insurance Act. It instituted a comprehensive state health service, providing for compulsory contributions for unemployment, sickness, maternity and widows' benefits and old age pensions from employers and employees, with the government funding the balance. People in Britain were provided with free diagnosis and treatment of illness, at home or in hospital, as well as dental and ophthalmic services. The birth of the NHS was marked by Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan’s visit to Park, now Trafford Hospital, in Manchester on 5 July 1948. That day Bevan met the NHS’s first patient, 13 year old Sylvia Diggory.

Following his spell as Health Minister, Bevan served for a short period as Minister of Labour but resigned in 1951when Hugh Gaitskell, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that he intended to introduce measures that would force people to pay half the cost of dentures and spectacles and a one shilling prescription charge. For the next five years Bevan led the left-wing of the Labour Party, before returning to the opposition front bench as shadow foreign secretary and eventually deputy leader of the party in 1959. He was though already a very ill man and died of cancer on 6th July, 1960.

 

 



 

THE HISTORY OF SCARECROWS

For thousands of years scarecrows have helped save crops from birds and other animals and provided an outlet for human creativity. Scarecrow genealogy is rooted in a rural lifestyle. The Egyptians used the first scarecrows in recorded history to protect wheat fields along the river Nile from quail flocks. Farmers installed wooden frames in their fields and covered them with nets. Then they hid in the fields, scared the quail into the nets and took the bird’s home to eat.

Greek farmers in 2,500 BC carved wooden scarecrows to look like Priapus (the son of the god Dionysus and the goddess Aphrodite) who was supposedly ugly enough to scare birds away from the vineyards and ensure good harvests. The scarecrows were painted purple with one hand holding a club to scare the birds and a sickle in the other for good harvests. As the Romans marched across Europe they followed the Greeks and introduced Priapus scarecrows. Simultaneously the Japanese had scarecrows called kakashis shaped like people. They dressed them in raincoats and a straw hat and often added bows and arrows to look more threatening. Kojiki the oldest surviving Japanese book from 712 features a scarecrow known as Kuebiko who appears as a deity who cannot walk but knows everything about the world.

In Germany scarecrows were made to look like witches whilst in medieval Britain children were used to patrol the crops and wave their arms and throw stones. Later on farmers stuffed sacks of straw, made faces from gourds and leaned the straw man against a pole.

During the Great Depression in America scarecrows could be found across the whole country until after the Second World War when farming began to use chemicals to protect their crops. For thousands of years scarecrows have helped save crops from birds and other animals and provided an outlet for human creativity. Scarecrow genealogy is rooted in a rural lifestyle. The Egyptians used the first scarecrows in recorded history to protect wheat fields along the river Nile from quail flocks. Farmers installed wooden frames in their fields and covered them with nets. Then they hid in the fields, scared the quail into the nets and took the bird’s home to eat.

Greek farmers in 2,500 BC carved wooden scarecrows to look like Priapus (the son of the god Dionysus and the goddess Aphrodite) who was supposedly ugly enough to scare birds away from the vineyards and ensure good harvests. The scarecrows were painted purple with one hand holding a club to scare the birds and a sickle in the other for good harvests. As the Romans marched across Europe they followed the Greeks and introduced Priapus scarecrows. Simultaneously the Japanese had scarecrows called kakashis shaped like people. They dressed them in raincoats and a straw hat and often added bows and arrows to look more threatening. Kojiki the oldest surviving Japanese book from 712 features a scarecrow known as Kuebiko who appears as a deity who cannot walk but knows everything about the world.

In Germany scarecrows were made to look like witches whilst in medieval Britain children were used to patrol the crops and wave their arms and throw stones. Later on farmers stuffed sacks of straw, made faces from gourds and leaned the straw man against a pole.

During the Great Depression in America scarecrows could be found across the whole country until after the Second World War when farming began to use chemicals to protect their crops.

 

 



 

SS WENVOE – A STORY OF BRAVERY AND TRAGEDY

SS WENVOE – A STORY OF BRAVERY AND TRAGEDY

 

The 2,979 tonnes merchant steamer the SS Wenvoe was built in 1894 by the Gray Company of Hartlepool and owned by a prominent Cardiff shipping family, the Morels. Ships like the SS Wenvoe, which were used to transport a variety of cargoes, helped Cardiff to become a port of worldwide importance in the years leading up to the First World War. These ships and their crews played a brave role in supplying the country during the conflict. The war however led to tragedy for the SS Wenvoe, albeit under a different name. Sold to French owners in 1916, the SS Wenvoe was renamed the Bayvoe, although due to wartime restrictions it had to remain under the British Flag.

From the start of the Great War in 1914, Germany pursued a highly effective U-boat campaign against merchant shipping. At first, U-boats obeyed 'prize rules' which meant surfacing before attacks on merchant shipping. This allowed time for the crew and passengers time to get away. As the war progressed and allied detection improved, this policy was abandoned. U boat attacks intensified and in late 1917 and early 1918 several Cardiff based ships were hit.

On 9 January 1918, Bayvoe, on a voyage from Portland to Bordeaux with a cargo of wheat, was targeted and sunk off the coast of Brittany by a German U-boat. Tragically, four crewmen, all merchant seamen from civilian backgrounds, lost their lives.

Their origins give a strong indication of the cosmopolitan character of Cardiff at the time. The youngest, a mess room steward, was 19 and from Turkey. The fatalities also included an engineer from Riga, fireman and trimmer from Bombay and a cook from Greece.

The submarine which torpedoed and sunk the Bayvoe was under the command of 31 year old Walter Roehr. Roehr was a very successful U boat commander, with several military decorations, including the Iron Cross 1st Class. His U84 submarine was responsible for sinking 1 warship and 28 merchant ships.

Attacks on SS Birchgrove and SS Cardiff

In an indication of Cardiff’s contribution to the war effort, two more local ships suffered attacks around this time. Roehr had already been responsible for sinking the SS Birchgrove, carrying goods from Penarth to Bordeaux, the previous month. The very day after sinking the Bayvoe (9 January), Roehr attacked and severely damaged the SS Cardiff 20 miles off the French coast near Lorient. In spite of these successes, his story did not end well, as his submarine was itself sunk off Penmarch, France just 5 days later with the loss of all officers and crew. The SS Cardiff was later sold on to a German company, Schulte and Bruns. In a final twist of fate, the SS Cardiff, as the renamed Konsult Schulte, was sunk by the allies in a Norwegian fjord in 1941.

 

 



 

Gertrude Jenner – Suffragist

REDRESSING THE BALANCE

 

On occasion of her death in April 1894 at the age of 69, the popular Evening News, while recognising her great charitable work, described Wenvoe’s Gertrude Jenner as a picturesque, eccentric and pathetic character. She was in fact a fearsome crusader for women’s issues and good causes. Her campaigns for political, legal and social justice brought her fame and influence far beyond the tiny hamlet she called home.

Gertrude Jenner was born in 1835 and was the unmarried daughter of Robert Francis Jenner of Wenvoe Castle. Miss Jenner’s activities were regularly reported in the columns of the Barry Dock News, Western Mail and Cardiff Times. The Evening Express described her as a ‘quaint little old lady with a keen, but not unkindly face.’ Never afraid of a struggle, she was a familiar figure at the High Court of Justice in London, where she appeared year on year, unsuccessfully fighting to prove her claim to part of the Wenvoe Castle Estate. She invariably appeared carrying her signature handbag and a good sized umbrella. On one occasion she occupied three hours of the court time of Mr Justice Grantham, who patiently listened to the ‘talkative little woman bedecked in frills and ribbons.’

 

Miss Jenner will though be remembered for much more than campaigning on her own behalf. She worked tirelessly to raise money for colliers following mining disasters, carried out voluntary work among women in colliery districts and campaigned ceaselessly for improved wages and living conditions in the mining communities. She successfully petitioned the authorities to reduce the sentences of women convicted of capital offences and was proud of having saved at least 14 women from the gallows.

Gertrude Jenner was ahead of her time in being one of the first suffragists in Wales. She was a formidable and persuasive speaker. On 25 February 1881, she presided over a meeting held in Cardiff Town Hall to ‘consider means of promoting interest in Cardiff’ towards female voting rights. This was a preliminary to a larger

meeting that was held on 9 March, attended by local dignitaries and chaired by the Mayor of Cardiff. Miss Jenner spoke passionately at these meetings, arguing that everyday life proved widows and spinsters, who contributed to the rates and taxes of the country, were too often victims of tyranny and oppression. The vote would help to redress the balance. There was loud applause when Miss Jenner exclaimed that ‘women would make as good a use of their votes as men did.’

This of course, was a small step in the long struggle by the suffragists in which many Welsh men as well as women played a part. The campaign finally came to fruition with the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918, enfranchising all men, as well as all women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. While this gave the vote to 8.4 million women, it was not until 1928 that the law was extended, granting the vote to all women over 21, on equal terms with men.

One final anecdote sums up Miss Jenner’s determination to fight for women and social justice. In 1896 she wrote a letter to the Home Secretary, bringing attention to the horrific exploitation of a fifteen year old Cardiff girl employed to go up in a balloon parachute at a public entertainment. The unfortunate teen was drowned when the balloon crashed into the Bristol Channel. In her letter, Miss Jenner called for an Act of Parliament to outlaw such ‘dangerous, discreditable and demoralising occupations for children of such tender years, and for the simple but glaring purpose of making money and pandering to the wishes of sensational and idle-minded sightseers.’

Gertude Jenner was buried in our local churchyard and her grave can be found barely 100 yards from her cottage across the street. The Evening News reported ‘Miss Jenner lived at Ty Pica, a cottage on the Wenvoe Estate and it was there she ended her queer, troublous little life.’ Perhaps it takes a former Spice Girl to put this description into context. ‘It’s really important to remember that most people in the public eye are human for a start and a lot of things you read in the media get slightly misconstrued and manipulated.’ (Geri Halliwell)

 



 

 

ST DAVID – WALES AND BEYOND

ST DAVID – WALES AND BEYOND

St David was born in Pembrokeshire around 500 AD to Sant, a prince of Cardigan, and St Non, the daughter of a chieftain. Little is known about his life. He was brought up near Aberaeron and is said to have been baptised by St Elvis of Munster. David was educated at a monastery under St Paulinus who, recognising his great potential to spread the word of Christianity, sent David on pilgrimages around Wales, Cornwall, Britanny, Ireland and Jerusalem.

St David died on March 1st, 589. His remains were buried in St David's Cathedral. Although his shrine was later removed by Vikings, a new shrine was constructed there in the 13th Century.

It is said St David founded 12 monasteries and performed several miracles. Canonised by Pope Callixtus in 1120, St David has been recognised as patron saint of Wales since the 12th century.

St David’s Day is celebrated by Welsh societies around the world. St David’s Day celebrations are still held by the descendants of those who emigrated from Wales to Patagonia in 1865.

 

• While preaching to a crowd in the West Wales village of Llanddewi Brefi, David is said to have performed his most famous miracle. The crowd were finding it difficult to see and hear the sermon, when a white dove landed on David’s shoulder. As it did, the ground on which he stood is said to have risen up to form a mighty hill, making it possible for the gathering crowd to finally see and hear him. The dove became St David’s emblem, often appearing in his portraits and on stained-glass windows depicting him.

• Monasteries founded by St David were known for their extreme austerity. Monks abstained from worldly pleasures and carried out hard farming duties on a basic diet. Some monks were so fed up of St David’s harsh regime they even tried to poison his bread. Fortunately he survived.

• The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how Welsh St David’s Day celebrations in London would spark wider counter-celebrations among their English neighbours, with life-sized effigies of Welshmen being symbolically lynched.

 

Welsh tradition says that during a battle against the Anglo-Saxons, David advised the Welsh warriors to wear a leek in their hats or armour so that the warriors might distinguish themselves from their enemies. Ever since then, the Welsh wear leeks every March 1st in memory.

 



 

A Turbulent Time

STEPPING BACK TO A TURBULENT TIME

 

North-west of Tredegar, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, our local walking group came across the famous Chartist Cave. In the autumn of 1839 this remote cave was reputedly used by Chartist rebels to plan, make and stockpile weapons in advance of their famous protest march on Newport in November of that year.

At that time, in stark contrast to the iron masters and coal owners, the wages, living and working conditions of industrial labourers were appalling. The aim of the Chartists was to gain reforms by securing political rights and influence. The Chartists presented three petitions to Parliament – in 1839, 1842 and 1848 – but each of these was rejected. The first in 1839 claimed to have some 1.3 million signatures but like the others contained many forgeries.

 

CHARTIST DEMANDS

1. a vote for all men (over 21)

2. the secret ballot

3. no property qualification to become an MP

4. payment for MPs

5. electoral districts of equal size

6. annual elections for Parliament

 

 

Chartists attack the Westgate Hotel

The march on Newport took place on 4 November 1839. Chartists marching from Blackwood, Nantyglo and Pontypool were delayed by a storm, giving the authorities ample time to prepare an armed response. When the Chartists eventually converged on the Westgate Hotel, a bloody battle ensued. Within half an hour, 22 protesters lay dead or dying and upwards of 50 had been injured. An eyewitness report spoke of one man, wounded with gunshot, lying on the ground, pleading for help until he died an hour later. Bullet holes remain in the masonry of the hotel entrance porch to this day. The Chartist leaders John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were found guilty of high treason, becoming the last men in Britain to be sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. However, following a huge public outcry the sentences were commuted to transportation for life.

 

Some historians doubt that the cave was ever used by the Chartists. Many a local iron works would have been far more accessible and suitable for forging weapons and it seems unlikely that such an out of the way place would have been chosen to store them. Even so, for many the cave still has symbolic significance. A plaque at the entrance commemorates the role of the Chartists in helping to secure democratic rights. Five of the six Chartist demands were realised, with only annual elections for Parliament not eventually adopted.

We are often reminded of the events of the Newport Rising. In the recent ITV series Victoria, Queen Victoria is depicted as ordering the drawing and quartering of the ringleaders to be commuted to deportation, after learning that one of the men is the nephew of a member of her household staff.

 

 




 

 

 

 

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