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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Dubious dates of Anno Mundi

We found  some puzzling inscriptions on last week’s visit to South Ceredigion.

At Alltyrodin we went to view the handsome stable block adjoining the Georgian house.  The central doorway is set in large ashlar blocks from the nearby estate quarry, Gwarallt at Bwlchyfadfa.

The handsome ashlar central doorway in the stables at Alltyrodin

The handsome ashlar central doorway in the stables at Alltyrodin

And above the door is a carved plaque with lion rampant which reads:

J LL Esq.,
AD 1840
AM 5841

Inscribed owner's initials and date on the stables at Alltyrodin

Inscribed owner’s initials and date on the stables at Alltyrodin

J LL  represents John Lloyd, who inherited Alltyrodin on the death of his older  brother David in 1822.  He was unmarried and childless ( though there is a deed for a prenuptial settlement  in 1826, when he was about to marry Dorothy Alicia Seymer of Bath, spinster)  He was still alive and signing deeds in 1836. On his death his estate duly passed to his niece and her husband John Lloyd Davies is identified as master of Alltyrodin by 1843.

AM 5841 represents the date as Anno Mundi; years since the alleged creation of the earth.  It is a slightly problematical date.  Bishop Ussher  (1581 – 1656) decided upon 21 September 4004BC for the creation of the earth, while the Masonic convention is to use 4000 years. Jewish sources use 3761 years BC instead.   Assuming the stables were completed in or after September 1840, the carving is consistent with the Masonic convention: 4000 plus 1840 plus 1 if after September, would generate the observed date Anno Mundi  5841.  Fairly easy to interpret, then, except that the modern  Masonic Dictionary would designate a date of AD plus 4000 years as Anno Lucis, and  AD plus 3761 as Anno Mundi.  Perhaps they thought differently in the 19th century.

Not far away at Bwlchbychan a handsome gateway with three posts and connecting walls frames the drive down to the house.  Here the mason is identified in the inscription as D James mason.  The sandstone blocks are neatly stippled with chisel marks like those remarked on at the chapel inTanygroes in the foregoing blog.

The gates on the drive leading down to Bwlchbychan

The gates on the drive leading down to Bwlchbychan

On one post the inscribed plaque reads Erected 5861 and the other bears the same information  Cyfodwyd (was raised) in Welsh and the year 5861.  Assuming the same convention, these gateposts went up in  autumn 1860, and this looks consistent with their architectural style.  At Bwlchbychan the dating is uncorroborated Anno mundi, whereas at Alltyrodin the more familiar Anno domini date appears larger, and above.

Right hand gatepost has the English inscription

Right hand gatepost has the English inscription

The left hand gatepost has the Welsh inscription

The left hand gatepost has the Welsh inscription

The house was home in the 19th century to John Pugh Vaughan Pryse, third son of Pryse Pryse of Gogerddan.  Shortly after his second marriage (to Decima Dorothea Rice of Lwynybrain),  it was rebuilt in 1850 “ in the plain domestic style of architecture”, and presumably the gateposts and lodge were built shortly after.  Herbert Vaughan in his book, The South Wales Squires, described it as a rather dismal house and its occupant John Pugh Vaughan Pryse as a man who chased the fox as often as he could: ” in the dining room alone were 30 foxes masks, varied by a few heads of hares and otter’s poles. On the hearth rug lay a footstool comprised of a complete stuffed fox.” Pryse died in 1903, at the age of 85.

It is not clear to me whether these Anno Mundi dates indicate membership of the Freemasons on the part of the squires of Alltyrodin and Bwlchbychan, or whether instead they represent the beliefs of the actual masons who worked the stone on their behalf.

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