Remembering Kathleen ‘Kay’ Humphreys

by the Curious Scribbler

When I got to know Kay Humphreys she was a tiny elderly lady living at the far end of the long low row of ancient cottages in the shade of a huge acacia tree at Pontllolwyn in Llanfarian.  There was just one chair for guests which could be reached with difficulty, for she lived a frugal life hemmed in by huge sloping stacks of weekly magazines, the Spectator, the New Statesman, The Week.  The cottage was very much unimproved, cluttered with the memorabilia of her long life.

Loves in her life included the big house, Aberllolwyn, (which had formerly belonged to her clergyman uncles Tom and Griff Humphreys, and which she always felt was really hers), and cats.    A rector’s daughter herself, she delighted in tormenting vicars with theological questions on the subject of cats’ souls, and whether she would meet her favourite cats in heaven.  One of these favourites was our cat, Kevin, a handsome un-neutered  tabby tom who in the 1990s often attended the services at Llanychaiarn Church, where she was a worshiper.   On Sundays when Kevin failed to put in an appearance, Kay would often appear at our door, imperiously asking ” Where is Kevin?”  Kevin became a beneficiary of her will – a legacy which he did not collect because he predeceased her.

In 2004 she endowed her own memorial bench outside the church.  Ever practical, she donated it while she could have the use of it, and on a chilly April morning, eighteen years ago today,  a party of relatives and villagers assembled around her as the Revd Hywel Jones dedicated the bench.

The dedication of the Bench on 3 April 2005

Kathleen Humphreys on her bench, with cousin Mary Ellis and niece Cathy McGregor

By this time in her life Kathleen Humphreys was best remembered for her long-running column in The Cambrian News, ” Kay’s Corner” a weekly opinion piece, which drew on a wide knowledge of folklore, gardening, theology and her own strong ideas.  She had always been a writer, and now, as I assemble her archive and diaries for donation to the National Library of Wales, one gets an insight into a remarkable woman.   She was born in 1916  into a clergy family and grew up at Llangan Rectory near Bridgend.  Her sixteen-year-old diary reveals a girl on the brink of adulthood, aware of male eyes upon her, and already sure that the life of a married woman is not for her.  Aged nineteen she was working in London, going to auditions, and working for Central Editing ( would this be the BBC?).  Her London diaries from the war years unfortunately do not survive.

Her big literary break came in 1959 when she published Days and Moments Quickly Flying under the pen name of Perry Madoc.  It is significant to remember how many women in the early 20th century adopted male cognomens to increase their chance of being taken seriously.  The manuscript had been first submitted under the name of “Pen Severn”.  Perry Madoc was published by Collins both here and in America and was very favourably reviewed in The Spectator, and compared with Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall.   Its knowing portrayal of homosexual school teachers and vulnerable schoolboys would have perhaps been expected of a male author.

Kathleen Humphreys’ 1960s diaries reveal a woman who felt her career blighted by the influential Literary Advisor to Collins, Milton Waldeman. There is more than a suggestion that his rejection of her next manuscript was influenced by her rejection of his sexual advances.   She was no longer resident in London, having moved to Pontllolwyn to be near her uncles.  Two other novels survive in manuscript: The Ink Blot  ( which was rejected by Collins and by Gollancz 1960) and The Coal Scuttle Triptych ( rejected by Heinnemann 1961).  A later novel  The Washerwoman of Sevigny  was rejected by Hutchinson in 1989.  It may have been a disadvantage that she was no longer a face on the London scene, but she was certainly publishing articles and short stories in Punch,  in John O’London’s Weekly and in Argosy.  From the 1960s she was also a regular contributor to The Cambrian News.

All her life, Kathleen Humphreys needed to earn a living  to supplement her income as a writer, and did a number of jobs in Aberystwyth.  Her  Pontllolwyn diaries span fifty years 1953 to 2004,  and record the experiences of her daily round.  Her accounts include  Rosemary Christie, mother of the actress Julie Christie and mistress of Douglas Hague of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments, the Jervis family of Bryneithin, the geologist Nancy Kirk, Prof and Mrs Parrott, the Thomsons of Glanpaith, the Roberts of Crugiau, the Mirylees at Nanteos, the Condrys and the Chaters as well as many local neighbours.  She was active in the CPRW, the Cardiganshire Horticultural Society, the Ceredigion Antiquarians, and in art and pottery classes.  She never owned a car, and travelled everywhere on foot or by bus, chatting to all she met and often expressing her delight in the scenery, the wildflowers and the weather.

Her handwriting is hard to decipher, but the diaries are surely a treasure trove of local life, as well as  a signpost to a huge output of published writing hidden away in old newspapers and magazines.  I end with a small sample which I have transcribed, the diary entry for 18 July 1959.

Last night I wandered up to Aberllolwyn like a ghost, jumping down over the wall from the woods, now overgrown, and the back all high weeds smothering the wallflowers and sweet williams I had in the old basins and the flowers against the wall! It was exactly like a dream in the dusk with all silent and deserted. I felt so desolate and so acutely homesick I cried bitterly and rained down curses on Uncle Griff and his smug wife and their smug house and on Providence for losing me my home and my little cat.  In two months I have only seen him once, briefly, and then he looked scared, thin and ill. 

In vain I called him, and I sat on Uncle Tom’s seat in the field in despair.  On one last impulse I went down along the bottom of the orchard to the farm and there coming through the entrance to the Dingle from the farm was a glimmer and red and white.  My darling Ginger!  And in the trim, fat as butter and coat very sleek.  How pleased he was to see me, Kissing and rubbing my face with his nose.

By this time it was pitch dark, and warm, and I resolved to spend the night with him on the hay stack.  I climbed up a very steep ladder, Ginger clinging on and purring.  We settled down.  At first it was very cosy with heat rising from the rick but presently my temperature dropped and I got chilly.  I tried to arrange these angular blocks and fetched an old raincoat of Dai’s from below.  Ginger bore it all very well and when I was too fidgety stationed himself near, so I could hear him purring gently. 

Later there was a terrific row below and footsteps.  We were rather alarmed, me especially, but peeping over the top I saw it was Dai and Mrs Hughes with a torch.  What were they doing?  Extraordinary noises of clanging zinc.  They were arranging the fallen zinc sheet from the garden wall before the calf shed to keep the geese in.  And I had nearly settled in there with Ginger for the night!  Why put the geese there? 

The haystack very humid. At daybreak Ginger and I went down through the Dingle to the cottage and into bed.  It is wonderful to have that warm lump once again snuggled up on the bed covers and his purring and sonnerations.  At 2.30 I took him up to the farm and asked Mrs Hughes to give him milk in the cowshed, which she does, the part behind the stalls where the dogs can’t reach.  There  are several tins of catfood in the farm piling up  because no-one has seen Ginger for days and days.

Kathleen Anne Humphreys, Perry Madoc or Kathleen Hatling ( as she was published in Argosy 1944) deserves to be disambiguated and rediscovered.

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Ambitious new planting on the Penglais campus

by The Curious Scribbler

After a week marked by terrible rain and wind,  Thursday’s watery sunshine illuminated an unusually optimistic scene on the  Penglais campus.

Readers of this blog will remember the widespread dismay five years ago when the heavy equipment moved in and uprooted the iconic shrub borders adjoining the main drive into the campus.  Planted in the 1970s to complement the newly completed Hugh Owen building, this varied drift of perennial and deciduous foliage was one of the features which had led to the grading of the campus grounds as of national importance in the Cadw Register of Historic Parks and Gardens in 2002.

The original planting of the bank below the Hugh Owen Building as it appeared in 2003

For the last four years the area has presented a stark appearance of grass and bark, relieved only by a few scrawny trees which had been spared.  Few of these had lasting potential, they included sycamore, ash, Italian alder and goat willow, hardy weed trees which had opportunistically seeded in among the ornamental plantings.

The Hugh Owen bank was denuded of its shrubs in 2017

When the chainsaws and diggers reappeared a couple of weeks ago and  these trees were removed in a sea of mud some passers-by wondered if worse was yet to come.   But over the last two days a  transformation has been wrought by a  swarm of grounds staff in high-visibility jackets.   Almost 2000 shrubs have been planted,  in swathes of contrasting foliage textures.

All hands to the planting, which was done by the University’s team of grounds staff

 

New planting continued on Friday on the bank below the Hugh Owen building

The planting design by Dr Peter Wootton Beard references the border which preceded it, using many of the same or similar species to those selected by former curator Basil Fox when the building was new.   Other newcomers have also been selected.  As with the original design, the layout provides swathes of contrasting evergreens  and areas of deciduous  shrubs which form dark patches in winter.  Flowers, berries and scent have not been neglected, so the tapestry will change as the seasons progress. In the next few years mulching and aftercare will be necessary, but the shrubs will fill out to create dense low-maintenance ground cover which should be good for the next fifty year.

Afternoon sunshine on Friday catches the scheme nearing completion.

I am told that last year alone required no less that fourteen rounds of grass-cutting on this bank, much of which is challengingly steep for machinery.  The next few years will require mulching and aftercare, but as the shrubs fill out they will create a low maintenance continuous cover which should be good for the next fifty years and more.

It is good to see some long-term investment in the appearance of the Penglais Campus.  Aberystwyth is the only Welsh university  to have been awarded a Grade II* Cadw listing, for what is described as ‘one of the most important modern landscaping schemes in Wales’.

 

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Ceredigion’s first black gentlewoman

by The Curious Scribbler

A year ago today I posted a short blog about my researches on Justina Jeffreys, the Jamaican-born woman of colour who was adopted and reared near Tywyn and became a prominent  member of north Ceredigion society in the early 19th century as wife of George Jeffreys at Glandyfi castle.

Glandyfi castle sketched by Francis Wood in 1838

It has been a particularly gratifying post, leading to much correspondence and the identification of at least six present day descendants of Justina or her brother Charles McMurdo Leslie.  I have been writing up the story in much greater detail for next year’s issue of  the history journal, Ceredigion.

I note that Wales has led the UK nations in making Black History a mandatory part of the national curriculum.  Among the early black Welsh to be enjoying renewed attention is John Ystumllyn, the 18th century black gardener, from north Wales.  Two weeks ago, to mark Black History Month, a pretty repeat-flowering yellow rose was launched by Harkness Roses in his honour.

The John Ystumllyn Rose

For many years school children have been taught about Mary Seacole, who nursed in the Crimean war, and was the  daughter of Lieutenant James Grant, a Scottish army officer, and a free mixed-race Jamaican woman.    Our curriculum could instead have more local resonance, if focused instead on Justina Jeffreys, some eighteen years older than Mary, and the daughter of another Scottish officer, Captain Charles McMurdo and a free ‘mulatto’ woman, Susan Leslie.

Justina was brought up at Bodtalog as the only child of McMurdo’s brother officer, Edward Scott and his Welsh wife Louisa, and is believed to have been a muse to the young poet and author Thomas Love Peacock.

Bodtalog, near Tywyn

It wold be wonderful to discover a portrait of this talented young woman.    She died in 1869,  so it is also possible that somewhere there is a carte de visite, depicting her in her sixties.  Although carte de visites were often collected in albums, the photos were very seldom labelled, so it will be a very happy chance if an image of her is ever identified.

 

 

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Knight errant?

by the Curious Scribbler

The long dark January has given me plenty of time to peruse one of last year’s purchases, that hefty doorstep of a book ” The Families of Gogerddan in Cardiganshire and Aberglasney in Carmarthenshire“.  It was launched last March at the National Library of Wales by its author, Sir David T R Lewis,and I handed over my £30 with enthusiasm for it is a subject of which I was eager to learn more.

Sir David Lewis is of Carmarthenshire farming stock whose elevation to the knightage in 2009 follows a glittering career in the law and a stint as Lord Mayor of the City of London in 2007.  Taken together in this book he has assembled a large body of information and a lot of pictures about an interesting family and their homes.

The book, however,  proved to be packed with surprises, the first of which was to find material from one of my blogs extensively reproduced without attribution on p217.  In my Letter from Aberystwyth of 7 October 2015 I wrote about Florrie Hamer, whose grandmother had acted as wet nurse to Sir Pryse Pryse’ wife in 1869.  It is funny how one can suddenly recognize one’s own words amongst those of another author. When I got out the highlighter pen I found a remarkable similarity!

His book – my text!

In 2013 I devoted a blog to the interpretation of the Anno Mundi dates upon the gate posts of Bwlchbychan and and the stables at Alltyrodin.  Perhaps we were working in parallel, but the account on p201 strongly suggests my blog was his (unacknowledged) source.

I am not the only historian to have noticed an uncanny resemblance to their own work.  It is ironic that the author’s copyright statement at the beginning of his book reads ‘permission is granted to quote inextensively and without photographs from the contents of this book provided attribution is made to the author with an appropriate footnote or source note’.

Soon I happened upon  a splendid howler: a panel about Nanteos on p 267 revealed that the eccentric George EJ Powell was ” Etonian, scholar and friend of Byron, Swinburne, Longfellow, Rossetti and Wagner“.  Powell, who lived from 1842-1882 certainly hung out with Swinburne, and  he corresponded with Longfellow in seeking approval for his early poetry, but Byron!  Byron died eighteen years before George was born, so this is clearly impossible.  I can only think that Sir David has been influenced by the recently-placed creative name plates on the doors of Nanteos mansion in its present  incarnation as a hotel.  They do have a Byron room, and a Marquis de Sade room, but this is not a good historical source for nineteenth century history.

The I came across a map in which the Dovey is labelled as reaching the sea at Aberystwyth and the Ystwyth at Aberdovey.

Lewis has assembled a large amount of information, some of it his own, and illustrated it lavishly with contemporary and historic photographs.  Many I recognize from the collections of the National Library of Wales, while others are new to me, and sourced from private individuals who have shared their property and are properly identified below the picture.  What is surprising is that the photos held in the National Library are rarely identified as such, and in many cases the quality of reproduction suggest they have been photocopied and reproduced from earlier publications, in which the source was properly acknowledged.   Such a shortcut presumably avoids the NLW reproduction fees.

Such failings of scholarly etiquette would not be surprising in a school project, but seem very cavalier on the part of an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a Member of Council of at least three Universities.  His publisher might be feeling rather embarrassed  .. but then, he is his own publisher.

 

 

 

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John Corfield, gardener and thespian

 I cannot claim authorship of the piece reproduced here, though I did contribute to its composition under the pen of Peter Wootton Beard.  It recently appeared as a tribute from the Vice Chancellor, Elizabeth Treasure, in the inboxes of all university staff.   John Corfield was ubiquitous in Aberystwyth, some knew him best for his work at the exceptionally fine gardens of the Penglais campus, others for the panache with which he received bucket loads of wallpaper paste down the trousers in the Wardens’ pantomimes.   I reproduce the tribute here in full, but have augmented it with a number of photographs charting his life.

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news with you that our former Head Gardener John Corfield passed away peacefully on 15th August 2020. He will be hugely missed. 

John was born shortly after his parents moved from Montgomeryshire to Tan-y-Castell farm, Llanfarian in 1933, where his father became the tenant farmer of the Tan-y-Bwlch estate. After a terrible flood in 1964, the family were forced to leave the farm and moved to Marian House, Llanfarian.

John Corfield.  Portrait by H.N. Davies of Aberystwyth 1934

The schoolboy John, in a photograph re styled as a pencil drawing

John subsequently joined the University staff under the newly appointed Curator of the Botany Gardens and College Grounds, Basil Fox, and under the direction of Prof. Philip Wareing, then Head of Botany shortly thereafter. The team were responsible for taxonomic order beds adjoining Plas Penglais, the provision of plants for the undergraduate practical classes and research programmes, as well as the management of small-scale field experiments for the Botany and Agricultural Botany departments of University College Wales. Their role expanded to include the planting of the new Penglais Campus.

The campus rapidly expanded over the next twenty years and between them, John and Basil were responsible for introducing a wide range of plants that are perfectly suited to the exposed coastal conditions.

John became Head Gardener in 1983, amply filling the rather large shoes vacated by his predecessor, Basil Fox. The gardens were highly praised by Arthur Hellyer in the 1970s and were awarded a Grade II listing in the Cadw Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales in 2002. The listing describes them as ‘One of the most important modern landscaping schemes in Wales’.

John worked with the renowned landscape designer Brenda Colvin overseeing the planting between Pantycelyn and the main campus and was instrumental in bringing her vision to fruition. It is perhaps a little known fact that we work in such a special landscape, but I’m sure we all appreciate the beautiful surroundings that greet us when we come in to work, and we have John to thank for much of that. The current grounds team, under the management of Jeff Saycell, are working hard to restore elements of the original landscape and to protect John’s legacy. 

John became a formidable botanist; whose breadth of knowledge and interests were honed on his many botanical excursions with friends and colleagues to locations such as Greece, Crete, and the Pyrenees. On such occasions he demonstrated his considerable skill with languages, regularly surprising people with his ability to get about comfortably in Greek, Turkish, German and others.

 

In Germany with Count Constantin von Brandenstein

 

His expertise was often called upon for the student trips organised by the Botany department to the Picos de Europa mountain range in Cantabria, Northern Spain. His colleagues at the time describe John as a ‘magnet’ for students during these 8-10 day trips under canvas, due to his vast botanical knowledge, patience and warmth of personality.

In field gear in the Pyrenees

Maintaining academic standards in this environment required considerable ingenuity, and John was a great source of strength – making camp furniture, mentoring projects and monitoring student submissions. He was able to form a connection with anyone and everyone he met and inspired a generation of botany students. He wrote to his friend and former colleague Andrew Agnew just eight days before his passing to reminisce about how much he enjoyed the trips to the Picos de Europa, a memory that Andrew was pleased to share. He was also often called upon to share his passion through talks and practical advice to the local community.

Botanizing in Crete 2015

He was a founder member of the Cardiganshire Horticultural Society, formed in 1968, and following Basil Fox’s death in 1983, became the second President of the society, a post he filled until its 50th anniversary in 2018. Today the society has over 150 members, a tribute to the energy and warmth that John brought to every meeting.

The Cardiganshire Horticultural Society turned 50 in 2018.  President John Corfield with Jan Eldridge and Kay Edwards who helped cut the cake.

So many members of the society have plants given by John in their gardens, and he was well known for his generosity that would lead him to lovingly raise seedlings at his home, with the express purpose of bringing joy to those who would subsequently receive them as an impromptu gift.

He had just told me that he was growing a Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Rain Tree) for me at the time of his passing, and I can think of no better way to remember him. Prof. Mike Hayward remarked that a cyclamen grown for him by John came into flower on the day of his passing, a lasting gift that so many of his friends will be able to enjoy for years to come.

John was also a keen thespian and a founder member of the relaunched ‘Wardens Amateur Dramatic Society’. He was involved with nearly every show since the early 1980s as, variously, stage management, performer & front of house. He was also involved in many productions by Showtime Singers.

The Cardiganshire Horticultural Society celebrated their President’s 80th birthday in 2013

A private funeral took place at John’s green burial on 27th August, where only a small number could be present due to Covid-19 restrictions. We hope to celebrate John’s life in fitting style in due course within the Horticultural Society, and I will circulate details of any subsequent event for staff/former colleagues who may wish to attend nearer the time.

We also hope that a memorial tree for John will soon be planted on the campus, details of which will be shared in due course. 

Thanks to John’s friends, family and former colleagues for their help in preparing this tribute: Tom Corfield, Matthew Piper, Dr Andrew Agnew, Pat Causton, Margaret Howells, Prof. Mike Hayward, Dr Caroline Palmer, Dr Edwina Ellis, and Penny David.

My thanks to Dr Peter Wootton-Beard for his working in preparing this wonderful piece in memory of John Corfield.

Professor Elizabeth Treasure
Vice-Chancellor

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Justina Jeffreys – Black History

By The Curious Scribbler

During the ennui of lockdown I have been researching a little piece of Ceredigion’s black history.

My subject was Justina Jeffreys of Glandyfi castle, that eccentric Regency Gothic castle which perches above the (now straightened) Glandyfi Bends on the way to Machynlleth.  It was built in 1818 as the fashionable designer home of Shrewsbury born lawyer George Jeffreys and his new bride Justina Scott.  Justina had grown up at Bodtalog, a  small country house near Tywyn, as the child of the bookish intellectual Edward Scott and his wife, the widow Louisa de Saumaise.  It has long been believed that she was the model for Anthelia the heroine of Thomas Love Peacock’s first novel Melincourt. Anthelia is described as a highly rational young woman brought up and educated in solitude by a man of ‘great acquirements and of a retiring disposition’.

Glandyfi castle sketched by Francis Wood in 1838

But all was not as it seems, for Justina was not born a Scott.  She was born in Jamaica in 1787 the daughter of the premier army man then posted to the island, Captain Charles McMurdo of the 3rd East Kent Regiment “the Buffs”  and a young woman called Susan Leslie.   In the eighteenth century colonies bastardy was a very common phenomenon, on most pages of the parish birth records the children born in wedlock are the exception rather than the rule.  I cannot believe that the church actively approved of this situation but its clergy were diligent in recording the facts.  Fathers are normally named, and race and status was a matter of record.

So we know that Susan Leslie was a free mulatto, who underwent baptism in the Anglican church at the same time as her new daughter.  A mulatto is a specific term, it means she had one black parent, and given the social structure of the slave economy it is highly likely that that black parent was a woman and a slave.

Justina’s conception was more than a one night stand, for two years later her brother was born, also sired by Captain McMurdo, and named Charles McMurdo.

There might have been more illegitimate McMurdos were it not for the fact that Captain McMurdo’s posting in Jamaica came to an end, and he was sent off to Canada, where he eventually married a well connected young woman from a loyalist family, named Isabella Coffin and started a second family.  His first legitimate son was named Charles Alured McMurdo (the unusual second name being a nod to the Governor of Jamaica, Alured Clarke under whom McMurdo had served).

Susan Leslie remained in Jamaica, and must, I believe, have been a handsome and sought-after young woman.  She was soon the partner of a Scottish doctor, John Wright by whom she had two more sons.  She was, or in her lifetime became,  a woman of property for her will, written on a visit to London in 1801, distributes her land, buildings and slaves among her three sons, and names both the fathers as executors of the will.

It is touching that in the will she leaves to Justina her ‘apparel, trinkets and her silver spoons’.  In a subsequent codicil she rescinds these small gifts because her daughter has been amply provided for by McMurdo.  So how had McMurdo provided?

Justina had been removed from her mother and ‘adopted’ by Edward Scott, who during the Jamaica years had been Captain McMurdo’s junior officer, First Lieutenant  in the same regiment.  Edward, an impecunious younger son of an aristocratic Kent family had no children of his own, but when Justina was just three years old he had married, possibly for money, the wealthy widow Louisa, who happened to be the widow of his first cousin Count Louis de Saumaise. It was through Louisa, daughter of welshman Lewis Anwyl, that he winded up living comfortably as the squire of Bodtalog with Louisa and Justina.   I would speculate that when Justina was five or six years old she was shipped off to her new ‘uncle’.   She must have been quite young to have been so well educated and nurtured as a Welsh gentlewoman, but not so young that her brother Charles did not remember her.   While there is no evidence that the siblings met again, by the age of 20 Justina’s brother Charles McMurdo was in Limehouse, London founding a family of several generations of boat builders.  He and his descendants repeatedly named their daughters Justina.

Although Justina is named as Justina Scott in the marriage register her paternity was no secret, it was known to the Jeffreys family into which she married, and her birthplace, Jamaica, is recorded in the census.  Her high-status white father, McMurdo, would have been a matter of pride rather than shame, just as Mary Seacole, who we now venerate for her blackness, was openly proud of her Scottish military father. Justina’s story reminds me of other examples of the rapid social mobility of the mixed race offspring  English and Welsh gentlemen in the eighteenth century.  The purchaser in 1803 of the  Piercefield estate near Chepstow, for example, was Nathaniel Wells the Jamaican-born natural son of William Wells, his offspring by a house slave known as Juggy.  Nathaniel’s origins did not hold him back, he became the high sheriff of Monmouthshire.

George and Justina seem to have enjoyed a nice life in their pretty castle, and produced eight children all baptised at Eglwysfach church, where her old admirer Thomas Love Peacock also showed up to marry Jane Gryffydh in 1820.  Justina’s relationship with her adoptive parents also seems to have been good, two of her children bear the names Edward and Louisa, and when the very elderly Edward Scott eventually died aged 90 his estate, barring various legacies, was placed in trust for Justina for her lifetime.

Glandyfi castle first went on the market in 1906 when it was sold by two of Justina’s granddaughters.   Several lines of descent from George and Justina have been extinguished in later generations, but some persist in New Zealand and America, and have been known to turn up on holiday to visit the castle.  Today it is for sale once more for £2.85million.

Glandfi Castle sale particulars in Country Life 2020

The full story of my researches  have been accepted for publication in Ceredigion, the Journal of the Ceredigion Historical Society and will appear in 2022.

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A perfect day for Pendinas

By The Curious Scribbler

It is hard to remember last week’s grey shrieking storm.  Yesterday I walked up Pendinas in balmy sunshine, and a gentle breeze.  The sea looked as blue as the Mediterranean and the recently turbulent ocean is now calm and translucent – one can see the dark shadows of clouds upon the water, but also the shaded blotches of underwater outcrops of rock under the sea.  Looking over towards Alltwen, the black cattle were all grazing on the flat land.  Some mornings they are spread right up the hillside above the woods which enfold Tanybwlch mansion.  There is a grandeur in seeing the cattle spread out  like wild things in this huge landscape, not penned in a modest field of monocultural grass.  The flats are no longer the scene of the trotting races, but viewed from Pendinas one can still see the ghost of the grass track, subtly darker, perhaps better fertilized, than the rest of the meadow.

Alltwen and the Tanybwlch flats viewed from Pendinas

The climb is a prolonged one, even from the ‘easy’ access at the top of Cae Job in Penparcau.  Families toiled up the path to the iron age hillfort, topped with Victorian arrogance by the chimney-like monument to Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

The path up from Cae Job

At least that is what it ostensible is.  Personally I think of it more as a monument to a local gentleman, William Eardley Richardes of Bryneithin Hall who built it in 1856 and invited subscriptions from the town.  It is no coincidence how grandly it adorns the landscape as viewed from the windows of his mansion to the south.  The victory at Waterloo was in 1815, and I would have thought that by 1856 national fervour for a monument would have somewhat abated.  Richardes himself had been in the army of occupation after Waterloo, and was moved to re-name the five fields around his house  General, Governor, Captain, Lieutenant, and Major!  They appear thus on the tithe survey of 1848.

The wellington memorial on Pendinas

There were quite a few people at the top, typically facing in all different directions!  The 360 degree panorama laid out before us has no weak point.  Take your pick for views of the harbour and the sea and the distant Lleyn Peninsula, Penglais Hill punctuated by the Hospital, the National Library and University of Aberystwyth, or Penparcau spread out around its green-roofed 20th century primary school.

I first sat on the seaward side, where the bracken and gorse given way to heather and coarse grass. A wren fidgeted around a dead tree stump below me, and the honey bees came in waves, sometimes there were none, then quite suddenly thirty or more were working their way through the flowers beside me,  then disappearing back to the hive.  This is a great spot for looking down on flying birds:  red kite, herring gulls, soaring the thermals, crows  sculling steadily across the fields.  Four speed boats came south into my view leaving white trails of wake.  When they gingerly slowed to creep into Aberystwyth harbour at low tide I could see underwater the bar which partly occludes the harbour mouth.

Aberystwyth Castle just visible from Pendinas

Speedboats approach Aberystwyth Harbour

It may be a Bank Holiday during a pandemic but there is space and beauty for all to enjoy.  Looking down, one could see around twenty cars parked at Tanybwlch beach now that the concrete barriers have been cleared away.  There has always been more than enough space for social distancing on that beach, and I am glad to see these unnecessary restrictions have been removed.

Penglais Hill, Aberystwyth, viewed from Pendinas

Penparcau, viewed from Pendinas

The view south from Pendinas

The Ystwyth enters the harbour at Penyranchor

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Footpath is open at Penparcau

By The Curious Scribbler

I am delighted to learn that I am in error, and that last week I quite needlessly climbed over a gate ( as described in yesterday’s blog).   The gate in question was on the footpath across the flank of Pendinas, which emerges at the Cae Job gate to Penparcau.

I had let myself through the gate on Felin y Mor and onto the seaward end of the path, by means of lifting the little latch on the gate with my gloved hand, in accordance with best practice.  At the Cae Job gate I failed to open it, and finding the latch immobilized with a cable tie, I believed it to be locked.  Several readers have today informed me that the cable tie in fact immobilized the catch in the open position!

I am grateful to learn this and hope others will not be discouraged from taking the path.  The purpose of the cable tie, I learn, was to allow the gate to open at a push (or a pull), without need to touch it.  I don’t know why it didn’t then swing open when I began to climb it, but the good news is that the path is not closed.  The route through the fragrant gorse, with its attendant stonechats, chiffchaffs, dunnocks, linnets and wrens is a delight.  Violets,  primroses and stitchwort flank the path, and a thirsty dog can pause at the well beside the ruined remains of the cottage which formerly stood on the long slope towards the sea.

‘The Welsh Primitive’ (active 1830-1853) painted the cottage beside the path, half way up Pendinas.                                                National Library of Wales, Drawing Volume 56.

I find that  a massive 1400 people read yesterday’s Letter from Aberystwyth, when it was flagged up in the You Know You’re from Aberystwyth When group on Facebook, and the comments there were many and varied. Some feel as I do, while others feel that I should stay home and shut up!  A disputed theme concerns the blocking of car parks such as that at Tanybwlch beach.  Last week, the Government clarified that it was acceptable to drive locally to access a suitable place to walk: the guidance being that one should not drive long distances to take a short walk.  It remains the case that at present many people feel intimidated to travel even a mile by car to enable them to walk safely in an agreeable open space.  I am indeed fortunate to have  all this landscape within walking distance from my home.

 

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Three thousand years of Archaeology

by The Curious Scribbler

I had an enjoyable day at the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth on Saturday, at the Archaeology Day organized by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust.  The remit of archaeologists today stretches from the very ancient to the extremely recent,  and this was reflected in the range of talks.  The morning started with the archaeology of yesterday while by the afternoon we were taken back three thousand years to the beginning of the first millienium BC.

Alice Pyper had been having fun exploring the archaeology of Llyn y Fan Fach, the glacial lake which now supplies Llanelli with a clean water supply.  It was not always thus: the water system was built by conscientious objectors during the first world war.   Some thirty of them were compelled to live in two drafty huts  at 1200 feet above sea level to work on the project.  Field archaeology involved excavating and recording the footings of these huts. Documentary sources including newspapers and humorous sketches by the objectors fleshed out the story.  This workforce was of Englishmen who had already served time in prison for refusing to fight.  Michael Freeman pointed out that in Wales objectors were less harshly treated, and that most of the thirty conscientious objectors in Ceredigion were not imprisoned and were allowed to keep their jobs.

Also representing the very recent past is the built heritage of the 20th century.  Susan Fielding of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales treated us to photographs of a splendid succession of architectural gems or carbuncles, some listed, others already demolished.  The architects of the Percy Thomas Partnership ( familiar to us here for much of the Penglais Campus) kept cropping up, with Harlech College, Trinity Chapel at Sketty, and the soon-to-be-demolished Broadcasting House at Llandaff, all redolent of the 1960s.   The Prestatyn Holiday Camp ( 1935) and the Rhyl Sun Centre (1980) have both gone, both extravagant expressions of their times, and dear to many people’s holiday reminiscences.


Rhyl Sun Centre by Gillinson Barnett & Partners
Source:Architectural Press/Archive RIBA Collections

The Shire Hall in Mold, dubbed Britain’s leading ugliest building, and the Wrexham Police station are brutalist buildings which will perhaps not be mourned too much.  Still standing, and crying out for a role in a brooding  TV Drama is Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones at Amlwch – one of the very first 1950s comprehensive schools.

Less is sometimes more, and it was strangely gratifying to learn from Clwyd-Powys Archaeologist Paul Belford that we really don’t know whether Offa’s Dyke has a great deal to do with King Offa, when it was built, or quite what it was for!  Opportunities to excavate this world heritage site are few and far between, but one did arise from the actions of a Chirk man who bulldozed 50 yards of it in order to build a stable. ( His ignorance of its historic significance saved him from prosecution in 2014).  Perhaps this vibe for vandalism is in the air around Chirk.  Paul showed us a lidar image of the grounds of Chirk castle.  In the 17th century Landscape Architect William Emes flattened much more than 50 yards of it to create smooth parkland, and submerged a further length of it in an ornamental lake!

Low water levels in 2018 revealed Offa’s Dyke in the lake at Chirk Castle. Picture: The Shropshire Star

Two afternoon sessions concerned the days of the iron age hillfort, a period lasting from at least 1000 years BC.  Hillforts are scattered like measles across the whole of the map of Wales, and with techniques of  aerial photography and lidar more are still being discovered.  Either they are on hilltops with ridge fortifications all the way round, or they are promontory hill forts, situated on the edge of a cliff or at the confluence between two valleys such that fortifications are not needed at the steeper sides.  The archaeologists have been seeking evidence both within the enclosures, where  groups of round houses were situated, and outside them where burials, and farming actvities took place.  Ken Murphy rounded off the day with an account of the iron age chariot burial discovered last autumn in a field not far from a hillfort at an undisclosed location in west Pembrokeshire.  Being buried along with your two wheeled chariot and your horse requires a pretty extensive hole and this type of burial is well known from East Yorkshire. The chariot burial discovered at the evocatively named village of Wetwang, revealed the human skeleton curled  up between the wheels of his chariot, and the horse laid transversely at his head.  The limey soil chemistry in east Yorkshire does not dissolve the bones.

In the Welsh burial bronze fragments of the bit, bridle and horse ornaments testifies to the horse, and an iron sword to the warrior, but their bones are long dissolved.  The iron rims of the wheels and the imprint of the wooden chariot were found.  These items are undergoing conservation at the National Museum of Wales and will then be put on display.

Photo credit: Archaeologists exposing the wheels of the Pembrokeshire chariot.
 Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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Dragon on the move

by the Curious Scribbler

The Tanybwlch Dragon has moved several hundred yards along the beach during last Saturday’s high seas.  Once again it has beached itself gazing out to sea, its lower jaw a little more abraded, but its eager expression is now almost as convincing from the left flank as from the right.

Right cheek

Left cheek

Seas have been breaking over the stony strand which separates the beach from the low lying Tanybwlch flats, the location of summer trotting races, and formerly, of the Aberystwyth Show.   Once more a huge pool has formed below Alltwen, beloved of gulls and waders.

The brackish pool on Tanybwlch flats

Over the years there have been a number of efforts to drain this area and return it to pasture, but this seems to be a losing battle and each winter the lake forms again, and as it drains away rushes prosper at the expense of grass.  It is highly likely that we will see the day when the sea breaks through the pebble bar and our walks along this wild beach will be curtailed part way along.

The Dragon has migrated along Tanybwlch beach

The strand line was not as free from human debris as when I commented two weeks ago, but as with the comments from my reader about the Gower, fragments of netting and other fisherman’s waste were far more abundant than household plastic.  The white lumps on the strand line were not polystyrene but cuttlefish bone, and the fluffy froth just natural sea spume.

Cuttlefish on the strandline at Tanybwlch beach

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