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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Footprints on her grave

At the east end of Llanychaiarn Church is a rank of five chest tombs, to members of the Hughes family of Aberllolwyn and of Morfa, in the Parish of Llanychaiarn,  ( Morfa Bychan as we now know it) The five slate stabs adjoin one another like tabletops. Together they tell the story of a couple of generations.  But the right hand slab is remarkable for a rare piece of naive artwork, the meaning of which intrigues me.

Graves of members of the Hughes family of Aberlllolwyn and Morva at the east end of Llanychaiarn Church

The slab reads ‘ Here lies the interred body of Anna Maria Hughes, second daughter of John and Elizabeth Hughes of Morfa, who departed this life the 24th of March 1777 in the 16th year of her life’.  Her epitaph reads:

Adieu blest maid, Return again to Dust,
The’ Almighty bids to him submit we must
These little Rites a Stone, a Verse receive
Tis all a parent, all a friend can give.

Hers was the first of the five burials. Next to her are the graves of her mother Elizabeth Hughes, her father John Hughes of Morva, her sister Elinor ( 1764-1845) and her uncle Erasmus Hughes, her mother’s brother.  It was Erasmus who occupied Aberllolwyn and died there, a bachelor aged 73  in 1803.  As his epitaph points out he spent his life much preoccupied with the hereafter.

His life was spent in meditation on the Holy Scriptures and resigned in the hope of Resurrection to immortal Glory through the Merits of his Redeemer whoom( sic) he steadfastly trusted.

What is remarkable is that in addition to the copperplate verse engraved on Anna Maria’s slab is a remarkable bit of graffiti, the outline of not one, but two footprints, in neat square-toed shoes.  The individual square headed nails securing the heel are each carefully inscribed. The positioning of the two footprints is informal, contrasting with the neat symmetry of the ornament and inscriptions.  I don’t believe they were done in the mason’s yard.

Footprint on the grave of Anna Maria Hughes who died in 1777

A second and different footprint at the foot of the grave

Who carved them upon young Anna Maria’s grave?  And why? or when?

The other day I came across a very similar footprint, drawn on paper, in 1824. This was an example of a forensic drawing of footmarks at a crime scene:

A paper cut made in 1842 of left footprints in a turnip field at Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway

The shoe seems of a very similar style.  What were shoes like in 1777?  or was this carving added 50 years after her death?

I would love to hear of any other examples of footprint graffiti similar to this.

The full text of the other four graves is as follows:

1. Sacred to the Memory of Erasmus Hughes late of Aberllolwyn Esq., who died 13 March 1803 aged 73 years. His inscription reads: His life was spent in meditation on the Holy Scriptures and resigned in the hope of Resurrection to immortal Glory through the Merits of his Redeemer whoom( sic) he steadfastly trusted.

2. Sacred to the Memory of Elinor Hughes, daughter of John Hughes Esquire late of Morfa in the Parish of Llanychaiarn who departed this life 28th of January 1845 aged 81 years

3. Underneath lie the remains of John Hughes Esq late of Morfa second son of John Hughes Esq of Hendrevelen who exchanged this life for a Blessed Eternity the 27th day of October1806 in the 80th Year of his age.  His epitaph reads:

Just upright merciful in all thy ways
In Christian meekness spending here thy days
Sweet sleep in Jesus thou dost now enjoy
Partaking happiness without alloy


4. Underneath lie the remains of Elizabeth second daughter of Thomas Hughes Esq late of Aberllolwne and wife of John Hughes Esq, of Morva both of this Parish who resigned her Soul to the Almighty giver the 12th day of November 1807 in the 71st year of her life.   Her epitaph reads:

Adieu and long adieu thou ever dear
Thou best of Parents and thou Friend sincere
May thy survivors imitate thy worth
And live to God as thou didst while on earth

They are an evocative series of memorials:  Erasmus Hughes was the only son of Thomas Hughes and Elizabeth Lloyd.   One of his sisters Mary, married Edward Hughes of Dyffryn-gwyn, Merioneth and another, Elizabeth, married John Hughes of Morva.  On Erasmus’ death the Aberllolwyn estate passed first to his sister Mary Hughes,  and then to his niece Elizabeth Jane, another of John and Elizabeth Hughes’  daughters.  It is noteworthy that all these Hugheses seem to have married men already bearing the name Hughes.

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