Triplets at Upton Castle and Quads at Ysbyty Cynfryn

There is a small upland church in the middle of nowhere near Devil’s Bridge. It is called Ysbyty Cynfryn. Its extreme antiquity is suggested by the huge standing stones which rear here and there within the structure of the circular churchyard wall. Its yews are also of considerable age. They are spreading English yews, not the upright fastigate Irish yews so popular since the early 19th century.

Ysbyty Cynfryn church

Ysbyty Cynfryn church

Graves of Isaac Hughes and his six children

Graves of Isaac Hughes and his six children

Possibly it is best known for the grave of four quadruplets born to Margaret Hughes in a cottage called Nant Syddion on 17 February 1856. Poor woman, it is hard to imagine her suffering. Three of her four babies died within three days of birth, the fourth, a boy, after a week.  The brief lives of Margaret, Elizabeth, Catherine and Isaac are recorded on a single gravestone. In March there were further deaths: her son Hugh aged 5 died on 1 March, her husband Isaac, aged 32  on 6th March, and her daughter Hannah ( aged 3) on 10th March.  These later deaths are believed to be as a result of infectious disease – un-referenced histories attribute them to various epidemic diseases: Typhoid, Typhus, Cholera,  Smallpox and Influenza.

Cobbling on the grave distinguish the adult grave from the infants to the right

Cobbling on the grave distinguish the adult grave from the infants to the right

Multiple births seldom survived at this time. Nowadays treatments are available to improve the function of immature lungs and tubes can be inserted for artificial feeding. In the 19th century a baby who couldn’t suckle simply wouldn’t live, and it looks as if this was the fate of Margaret Hughes’ four babies.

But rarely, multiple births could be successful, and I found the memorial to one such in the tiny private chapel of Upton Castle on the upper reaches of Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.

The chapel at Upton Castle

The 13C chapel at Upton Castle

Upton Castle and its chapel date from the 13th century.  The property was sold in 1774 by its ancestral family the Malefants, (who  later, by inheritance, became the Bowens). It was purchased by Captain John Tasker a member of the nouveau riche  whose huge fortune derived from service to the East India Company in Bombay. On Tasker’s death in 1800 his niece Maria Margaretta Woods inherited Upton Castle. She lived locally with her husband Revd Edward Woods (who was rector of Nash 1796-1801) and their two daughters. Revd Woods barely appreciated his luck, for he died aged just 43 in 1801 and in 1803 the wealthy young widow was married again, to another clergyman Revd William Evans then aged 41. It is hard to imagine her stress when on 11 October 1803 not one, but three young Evanses were born: William Paynter Evans, John Tasker Evans, and Richard Davies Jones Evans.  The event is commemorated in a plaque in the chapel.

The triplets born at Upton castle

The triplets born at Upton castle

Maria lived to see her three sons grow to manhood, she died aged 47 in 1822, her triplets now aged 18.

In documents following the death of William Evans in 1838 we can find Revd William Paynter Evans, a clerk in holy orders, dwelling at Upton Castle along with his half sister Mary Sophia Woods a spinster ( and heiress through her mother). William Paynter Evans was married, but lacked surviving issue ( his infant daughter died at 7 months of age, and his wife Catherine Margaretta in 1844). * [Actually I learn they also did have a son, Charles Tasker Evans, who lived to adulthood, married, but had no children.  See comments from Elizabeth Ann Roberts  below].  However, when Revd William Paynter Evans died in 1853 his estate passed to his next brother. Both brothers had both  become medical doctors and it was the second  brother John Tasker Evans (1803-1895) who next inherited, and passed Upton to his son Vice Admiral Richard Evans, (1840-1927)  who eventually sold the Upton estate. Clearly their precarious start in life did not hold the three brothers back, living as they did to the ages of 49, 92 and 59 respectively.

On either side of the medieval tomb of Maliphant are the memorial to the Evans triplets, and to the eldest, W.P. Evans and his wife.

On either side of the medieval tomb of William  Malifant are the memorial to the Evans triplets, and to the eldest, William Paynter Evans and his wife.

Unlike the four babies at Ysbyty Cynfryn these triplets were born to a wealthy family with land. It is likely that the Evanses would have been able to co-opt a healthy estate servant with a baby of her own to assist with the feeding, and this may well have been the key to their survival. Indeed the use of wet nurses by Welsh gentry families was widespread. At another Ceredigion mansion, Gogerddan, the reminiscences  of Florrie Hamer,  (1903-1994) recorded how a recently-delivered mother from the cottages would be checked out by the doctor and then sent up to the big house to feed a new baby. Sometimes the mother would have to abandon her own child to family and cow’s milk in order to accompany the Pryses of Gogerddan to London, to nourish their baby instead.

Florrie wrote in one of her scrapbooks of the birth of Florence Mary Pryse, sixth child or Sir Pryse Pryse of Gogerddan in 1869:

“My grandmother Elizabeth Hamer went into the nursery at Gogerddan to breast feed the baby and my father was handed to his grandparents to be brought up on cows milk. 

It was the custom in those days for healthy young mothers among the tenants to do this, after a medical examination by old Dr Gilbertson, provided the tenant’s baby and the Pryse baby were born within a few weeks of each other.  Children were brought up in this way for the first 18 months to two years of their lives.  During this time when the family went to London my grandmother went too.  This happen three times during the 18 months my grandmother was in the nursery, and when she took the baby out in the Park, Old John Sudds, valet, followed a few yards behind carrying his usual stout stick.” 

Florence Mary Pryse grew up to be Mrs Loxdale of Castle Hill, Llanilar:  the relationship was never forgotten, and when Liza Hamer died in 1925 Florence Mary Loxdale sent a wreath and card addressed “to my Dear Foster Mother”.

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The National Plant Phenomics Centre at Gogerddan

by The Curious Scribbler

Plants, mainly grasses, have been being selected and improved at Aberystwyth for almost a hundred years.  Modern experimental oat breeding, for example, began here in 1919 along with experiments designed to improve the properties of forage grasses for sheep and cattle.  In those bygone days the research organisation was called the Welsh Plant Breeding Station (WPBS) and it was directed from 1919 to1942 by George Stapledon, who was duly knighted for his endeavours towards achieving what we now call ‘Sustainability and Food Security’.  In those days it was called ‘Autarky’.  In the Seventies we called it ‘Self-Sufficiency’.  (In any case, all these terms mean producing more, with less dependence on imports and political alliances).

I recently saw some charming photos of the early days of plant breeding at Aberystwyth.  Airy greenhouses contained bevies of women in pretty dresses, meticulously stripping the male parts (the anthers) from oats or other grasses and pollinating the stigmas with paintbrushes loaded with the chosen pollen.  Over the years the Welsh Plant Breeding Station grew in size and importance, moving in 1953 to the Gogerddan estate, of one of the former great mansions of Ceredigion, at Penrhyncoch.  The Queen came to open the new establishment.  The former walled garden of the estate soon disappeared under a complex of modern buildings. 

 

Traditional experimental plots trialling many varieties of rye-grass at IBERS, Gogerddan

 

 In the 1990s after various mergers WPBS renamed itself the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) and then to the bewilderment of many, mutated once more, by merger with Rural and Biological Sciences at Aberystwyth University into IBERS (The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences).  Many still know it by its older acronymns, especially the large local workforce who since its inception found employment in its  glasshouses, fields and experimental plots. Today IGER oats account for 65% of the oats planted in Britain and IGER varieties of rye-grass are contentedly masticated all over the world.  IGER turf has been developed for the particular needs of different sporting venues, and even to grow on vertical surfaces to enrobe green sculptures.

Meanwhile the sophistication of genetic engineering moved on from the days of girls in pretty dresses and now involves the scrutiny not just of new hybrids but of individual genes. And to mark the twenty-first century IBERS has a startling new toy, The National Plant Phenomics Centre, one of the most advanced experimental greenhouses in the world.    

In the National Plant Phenomics Centre glasshouse, plants leave the artificial sunlight for a visit to the measuring chambers.

 

Here in a giant brightly lit glasshouse, plants reside in identical individual pots, moving gently around the huge space on whirring, clicking conveyor belts.  Each pot contains a microchip which identifies its programmed needs. Each plant may have been designated for a personalised regime of water, fertiliser, pesticide.  And each plant is daily monitored.  As its progresses along the conveyor belt it pauses, turns to the left and passes into a chamber like a lift, whereupon the automatic doors close it from view. Inside it is rotated and photographed from four sides and above so that a computer programme can compute its precise enlargement since yesterday’s visit to the chamber.  In another chamber it may be lifted out of its pot to measure the root growth under infra red light, or measured for fluorescence.  Then the doors open and the belt moves on.  Then there is a breathless pause.  The plant pot stands upon a scale by which its weight indicates the amount of water it has lost or used since last it visited this point.  The pause continues, the computer deliberates, and then according to its needs and the experimental programme, a downward angled gun delivers a precisely measured bolt of water to the roots.  There is a further click and the patient moves on, to be followed by another and then another.  There is a remarkable sense of suspense in watching a series of identical plants passing the weigh station, some to be rewarded with a drink of water, others assessed, measured and sent on their way thirsty.

 

This lucky plant receives a squirt of water before returning to the bench

 

The multi-million pound National Plant Phenomics Centre opened very recently. It is a magnificent piece of sci-fi, with all the man-appeal of a train set.  Quietly clicking and whirring belts drive continual motion, not a human in sight.  Watch the You Tube animation here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qBsVP0j70k

It looks as if fewer local jobs will arise from the National Plant Phenomic Centre than from the old techniques of watering cans and trial plots, for it is all controlled by computer from a single work station.  In the animation you will find that the sole operative of the laboratory computer terminal looks suspiciously like superheroine Lara Croft.  The film is accompanied by a mind numbingly repetitive electronic music sound track.  Only in this respect does the animation exceed reality.

 

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Prohibition on Play at St Marcella’s

by The Curious Scribbler

Here is a handsome notice which stands at the entrance to St Marcella’s (Llanfarchell) Parish Church on the outskirts of Denbigh.  So what is so wrong with play?  Any sort of play?  Indeed what is wrong with enjoyment on consecrated ground?

Forbidding sign in St Marcella’s Churchyard, Denbigh exhorts: DO NO HARM. DO NOT PLUCK THE FLOWERS. DO NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO PLAY

 

St Marcella’s Parish Church, also known as Whitchurch or Eglwys Wen is just east of the fortified town of Denbigh

 

It is well worth overlooking this bleak notice to penetrate this, the grandest of Denbighshire’s medieval churches.  Inside its double nave are reminders of Elizabethan exuberance and of the wealthy and fecund family whose tendrils extend to Cardiganshire, to London and to Chirk Castle. Here is a monumental brass plaque portraying Richard Myddlelton ( who died in 1575) along with his wife and their seven fashionably dressed daughters and nine sons. They are of interest to Cardiganshire historians because one of these sons, Hugh Myddleton was the first great exploiter of the Cardiganshire Mines through leases granted to him in 1617 by James I. Sir Hugh Myddleton had attracted the King’s patronage through an extraordinary civil engineering project, the construction of ‘The New River’ a 38 miles canal cum aqueduct which brought clean water into London from springs at Chadwell and Amwell through Stoke Newington and Hackney to Clerkenwell. Sir Hugh leased Lodge Park, the Gogerddan hunting lodge from Sir John Pryse, and died there in 1631.

One of Hugh Myddleton’s daughters, Hester,  became wife of Sir Richard Pryse of Gogerddan, who was made 1st Baronet in 1641. (Also see letterfromaberystwyth May 14, 2013)

Another Myddleton woman, Jane, had married the powerful Sir John Salusbury and they are commemorated after his death in 1578 by a magnificent painted alabaster tomb celebrating their fecundity.  On one side of the box-shaped tomb are nine sons, eight in armour and one a cleric, while the other side shows four daughters: two fine ladies in ruffs and two swaddled, to indicate their death in infancy.

Alabaster tomb of Sir John Salusbury and his wife Jane

The four daughters of Sir John and Lady Jane Salusbury, two represented as grown women, two swaddled.

The life-size figures lying on the top of the tomb are meticulously represented.  Sir John in armour is equipped with sword on the right, and gloves and helmet at his feet. The hunting knife at his left is complete with a miniature knife and fork set nestled in its scabbard a sort of Elizabethan Swiss army knife!  His wife in her high ruffed dress lies like a doll, the soles of her feet neatly framed by the ruffles of her voluminous petticoats.

Lady Salusbury’s feet

 

Two very disreputable fat little male nudes support the crest in the panel at her feet.  I’d like to know more about what these figures represent.  They look very playful ( and not at all holy)  to me. Perhaps someone among my readers can throw more light upon these ugly little men.

At the foot of the tomb, the family crest is supported by two fat frolicking hominids

 

More images may be found at  http://medieval-wales.com/site_31_denbigh.php

 

 

 

 

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A medieval deer park and Bushell’s Well

by the Curious Scribbler

Not far up the road from Gwynfryn,  birthplace of our forgotten author Dorothea Jones is an area of wooded, rising ground overlooking the Dyfi estuary.  In Dora’s day it would have been predominantly scrubby oak woodland,  – the Sessile oak, Quercus petraea which clothes the Cardiganshire hills.  At its feet, the low lying land towards the estuary was pasture, for in the early 19th century much of the salt marsh had been drained by a system of dykes and embankments. Today the surviving salt marsh habitat is best seen in the ribbon of land cut off by the railway line which snakes northwards from Aberystwyth to Machynlleth, and through mid Wales to Shrewsbury and the wider world.

This high ground woodland had long been part of the lands of the Pryses of Gogerddan and was known as Parc Bodvage, later Lodge Park.  In 1637 a lease of Park Bodvage granted  by Richard Pryse of Gogerddan reserved to himself and his heirs “the pasture of three horses, nags geldings or mares at all times during the said terme within the said parke, and common of pasture for his and their deare [deer] within the said parke, with free access egresse and regresse thereunto to hunt course chase or kill the same at his or their pleasure…”  By the 19th century the deer were gone, but the Pryses remained indefatigable sportsmen and their game books in the National Library of Wales list the yield of the hunt.  In addition to foxes, otters and pine marten, rabbits and hares, the woodland and the marshes yielded pheasant, partridge, geese and duck in season, snipe, woodcock and even the odd corn crake.  In the 20th century, the family fortunes became extinct, and the estate broke up.  The Forestry Commission soon enrobed the high ground in conifers and the dwelling at the centre, which by 1800 had become a substantial gentleman’s residence was sold off with less than half its garden.  The pasture land became separate holdings with its former tenant farms.

It is through this divided patchwork of history that a group of Welsh Historic Gardens Trust  enthusiasts sought, last week, to unravel the traces of the original land-use, for Lodge Park is thought to have been the only medieval deerpark in the county. Like the many better known parks in England it is a lozenge shaped area of woodland grazing, around 100 acres in size, which had at its centre a lodge, a building used by the parkers in managing the deer and possibly as a place of refreshment when deer hunting became less of a larder activity and more of a gentleman’s sport.  Like other parks it retains on parts of its circumference the characteristic ditch and bank construction, which would originally have been topped by a palisade.  The ditch is on the inner side of the park, while the outer side of the bank is constructed of carefully placed vertical stones set into the earth bank, quite unlike the traditional herringbone arrangement of diagonal stones seen reinforcing field banks throughout the county.

Vertically placed stones hold back the bank and ditch boundary of the deer park

Vertically placed stones hold back the bank and ditch boundary of the deer park

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The park wall construction is distinctive

Some interesting people occupied the enlarged parker’s lodge in the 17th century.  This was the time of great mineral exploitation in the area and much of the British coinage of the time comes from Cardiganshire silver, minted at the Tower of London, and later at Aberystwyth Mint.  The leases of mining rights were granted by the Crown, first the Hugh Myddleton of Chirk Castle (1620-31), and later to Thomas Bushell (1637-42) and both men leased the house at Lodge Park from the Pryse landowners.  It must have been galling for the Pryses of Gogerddan to receive only their rent, while riches in lead and silver were extracted on behalf of the king.  Eventually Sir Carbery Pryse, 4th baronet, was influential in bringing to the statute book the Mines Royal Act of 1693.  Thereafter Cardiganshire experienced its own “gold rush” as landowners could exploit and profit from their lead and silver mines themselves. One of the great legends of the county is Sir Carbery’s ride, virtually non-stop and at a gallop from London to Gogerddan to bring the news home and commence the exploitation of his lands. Mining villages sprang up to meet the demand and a great influx of Cornish migrants brought their expertise from the tin mines of home.

Another legend perhaps arises from the hasty disappearance from Wales, during the Civil War, of the royalist mining engineer, Thomas Bushell.  Later he made peace with Oliver Cromwell, and also mined in England for the protectorate and for Charles II.  But his name remains linked in local folklore with a rock cut spring on the north flank of Lodge Park, “Bushell’s Well”.  Considering the number of mines which Bushell opened, driving adits into the hills and retrieving others from flooding, this seems a very slight structure to bear his name.  But in Bushell’s Well, the oral history goes, Bushell drowned a woman, variously a maid servant or his wife.   It is a tidy drinking place, cut into the living rock in the manner of a mine entrance, the clear water pooled by an 18 inch lip of rock at the entrance to the recess.  No one could drown in such a well unless they were held down in the water.

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The shallow drinking pool in which Bushell is alleged to have drowned a woman

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The well is rock cut in the manner of a mining adit and probably dates from the mid 17th

 

Join the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust http://www.whgt.org.uk/

 

 

 

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