LLANBADARN CHURCHYARD BY A W GILBEY
AND PENGLAIS SCHOOL HISTORY SOCIETY
This is an account of life in Llanbadarn Fawr at the end of the last century. It is provided here in an English translation from the original Welsh. The original is preserved in the National Library of Wales.
Looking back on Llanbadarn Fawr and old memories.
I'm taking part in the competition - number 5 in the list of subjects - held by the Cardiganshire Education Committee. The subject appeals to me. I'm a pure Cardi - as were my parents - and I'm very proud of it. My father came from Capel Seion, and mother from Llanychaiarn. I was born near Clarach in 1871, and am now nearly 86. My parents moved from their farm in 1874, when I was just 3, but I well recall looking out one morning, no longer at green fields, but at carts and cattle going along the main road to Aberystwyth, for it was the first Monday in the month, Fair Day. We were to live in Llanbadarn for many years and I'm going to try to describe some of the old characters and their manner of life which I remember so clearly.
Dick y Tê (see G115)
One old character was Richard Griffiths who kept a little shop, containing a bit of everything, which faced the bridge on the other side from where the Post Office is now. There was no post office then - I'll describe this later. Richard Griffiths was known as Dick y Tê (Dick the tea). There was a tea box which virtually filled the large window of his shop, and other such things as tallow candles and socks. The shop was a small room with a little fire in the winter. But Richard Griffiths was well known as a DOCTOR who cured "heart sickness" - not the heart disease we know today, however, but a kind of depression which afflicted young people, especially girls, who had been disappointed in love. This is how he cured them, in the secret place beyond the shop: a length of woollen thread, measured, was taken from the middle finger of the hand to the elbow. If it shrunk there would be no improvement; if it stretched, there was some hope for the future. This was all some kind of trick of course. Well, all this came to an end and Richard Griffiths died. The old house was pulled down in order to widen the main road.
Morgan bach y beddau
Another character I remember was Morgan bach y beddau (Little Morgan the Graves), since he worked digging graves in the old churchyard, before the time of the new cemetery. Morgan was an old stooped man with a little body, fond of the bottle which helped him along with his work. Mari, his wife, was some kind of nurse or midwife, a sort of Sara Gamp figure. It was understood that she had a little bottle of gin under her woollen apron. Mari was busy with her births and Morgan with his deaths; and a great many bottles went out of sight between the two of them.
Edward Lewis, Merchant
Another character was Edward Lewis, known as ‘Merchant' since he and his wife, Jane, went about the country in a pony and trap with a cask full of herrings which were caught by the Aberystwyth boats at that time. They were not short then as they are now. Potatoes, herrings and buttermilk was the main diet of the countrypeople at that time. So the herrings were valued, and Lewis the Merchant was greatly welcomed by the country people. Edward and Jane would, return at dusk from the country villages, having sold their load, a bit ‘top heavy', having drunk most of the profit. They did this in all weathers, however cold. When they went their business went with them.
Joe the Post
Another character was Joe the Post who carried letters for miles in all weathers and seasons. He started out very early in the morning, with a big stick in his hand. His round was Penparcau, Dyffrynpaith, Nanteos, New Cross, then he crossed over to Capel Seion on his way home, having walked all day across hill and field, before getting back late in the evening. His countenance was always friendly but his stride was shorter in the evening than when he set out in the morning. All this came to an end eventually, like everything else, with new methods of delivering the mail.
Another character comes to mind, an Englishman called John Rogers, who lived in the house near the railway. He only had one arm, having lost the other in an accident near Oswestry when he worked for the old ‘Cambrian Railway". John was in charge of the gate, opening and shutting it for the trains as they came in and out of Aberystwyth. I recall that John slept late two or three times, and the early Mail sped through the closed gates shattering them completely, and there was a lot of fuss before new gates were provided. John read all the newspapers, and was always a source of first hand news. It was John who first gave the news of General Gordon' s murder and the fall of Khartoum.
I've moved on in my memory from the railway to the middle of the village, and am looking at the 'Black Lion' being pulled down. Not the one which is there today but an old thatched long house with one end adjoining the churchyard, and at the other end a set of stone steps for mounting horses, especially when there was a marriage or funeral in the great old parish church, when people would arrive from all points of the compass. Evan Killin was the proprietor of the Black Lion in those days - a man held in high esteem by everyone. When he was an old man he used two sticks; this is my chief memory of him.
Huw Morris y Crydd
Up the slope towards Capel Soar, Huw Morris y Crydd (Hugh Morris the Cobbler), an old bachelor, lived alone. There was always a crowd of children in his workshop, and at other times older people, discussing the issues of the day. Huw was never alone. He kept hens who slept at one end of the house, with Huw occupying the other end. There were always fresh eggs for sale, two - a - penny. When he grew old he went into town to be looked after by relatives. No-one carried on his trade, and his old house was pulled down, and three modern houses were built in their place.
Further up in a little cottage lived another character, Nell Humphrey. It was said that every now and then she would walk to market in England to buy onions and return with a couple of sacks of them on her back to resell in the streets of Aberystwyth on market day. I also remember her daughter, Mari, selling them on a string. Clearly there was no 'Shoni Onions' coming from Brittany at that time.
Living opposite in a thatched cottage was an old lady living alone called Jane Hughes. She was always reading her Bible and fretting that she was unable to attend the Meeting House (Ty Cwrdd). She must have been a Methodist. The old Soar Independent Chapel was right behind her cottage. I didn't know what 'Ty Cwrdd' meant for a long time - apparently its the word Quakers used for their place of worship. In time they pulled this old chapel down and built the present one. I can recall the funeral of the Revd. Benjamin Rees, the minister who had charge of the old chapel had never seen him myself, but there was a huge crowd at his funeral, with the chapel full to the doors. He was much loved and respected.
Crick y Wheel
I'm going up slope about halfway towards Comnins Coch where a dreadful woman lived, who feared neither God nor man. She and her two daughters were frequently in and out of Cardigan Gaol for stealing and lots of other matters. They milked people's cows in the fields by night, dug potatoes and other vegetables for their own use. Everyone was scared of them, even the policeman. The woman threatened anyone who went near them with a sickle in her hand shouting: "I'll break your head if you come close", and everyone would flee in terror. She had two sons but I never heard anything about them - it seems they were more respectable. This woman wasn't married, and she had a nick-name "Crick y Wheel.' This seems to have come from the name of a cottage in Llanilar where she once lived: 'Crug yr wiel'. Anyway, I certainly remember the village children chanting:
“Crick yr Wheel, Y ddynes greulon.
Yn boddi eu plentyn yn Pwll Simon.”
(“Crick yr wheel, the cruel woman, drowned her child in Pwll Simon”)
Perhaps there was some truth in this song. She had one daughter with a bad eye who was feared as it was thought she could bewitch you if she looked at you. She spent a lot of her time going round the farms looking for oatmeal flour to put in the sack on her back. Old age crept up on them eventually, and they were obliged to leave that place, and live more honestly in their latter days.
I want to mention two other characters, not actually from the village this time, although they often visited it. First, Mari Fawr (Big Mary), as she was called on account of her considerable bulk. She came from the mine workings. She had a wagon and two horses, one in front of the other, full of ore in sacks to take down to Aberystwyth harbour, to go off by ship to some distant place. Mari always sat on the shaft of the waggon, with a big whip in her hand, shouting out "Gee-way, Gee-way'. The children would answer her back, but not get too close to the whip lest they got a taste of it. The lead mines eventually went out of business - it was cheaper to get the ores from Spain than to mine it here. So in the end Mari, her waggon and horses, and the big whip went back to where they had come from - the area around Ponterwyd / Ystumtuen and Goginan. Her departure meant that something picturesque was lost to the village.
Jac y taffi
A quite different character to frequent the village was the man known as 'Jac y taffi' (Jack toffee). No-one knew where he came from, or whither he was bound, that was his secret. He was a short man with a fierce countenance, and wore a high cap like a soldier, and leggings up to his knee, and over his shoulder hung a large horn, and on his back a tin box containing toffee. He would station himself at the Garreg Fawr when he was on a visit to the village. At about mid-day when the children had come from school he blew his horn loud enough to wake the dead in the nearby cemetery as a sign that he had arrived. The children came from all directions, carrying rags and bones which. they had hunted out, and put them in Jac's big open sack, the payment being a piece of toffee from the tin, picked out by his dirty fingers, but it went down well with the children. After he'd filled one or two sacks he would set off to his secret destination. Its amazing that no-one was ill after eating this dirty black toffee. I was warned at home to keep well clear of him. Neither Mari nor Jac came from this village, but I've included them as "characters" certain that no-one alive today remembers them.
The Post Office
I mentioned the Post Office at the beginning of this piece. The letters for posting used to be collected by Johnny Rowlands Bach on his way down from Comnins Coch. I used to stand ready with any letter we had to post in my hand waiting for him to come by. If there was no stamp on the letter, all you had to do was give him a penny, and he'd put the letter in his big leather bag, and go on to the letter box which was kept in the shop window of Edward Williams, Tanyfynwent, where he collected more letters, before moving on to the main post office in Aberystwyth. In time a separate post office was built in Llanbadarn on the present site.
I can remember talking to an old man about his memories of the village and he said he could remember a time when there were eleven pubs in Llanbadarn, and he told me the names of some of them, and where they were situated. I can remember four or five. Where was one by itself in the field on the other side of. the railway line, beyond the crossing on the way towards Pen-y-bont Hill. There was no other building near it at that time. It was called the Royal Oak. It was a wooden building frequented by 'sly drinkers' such as Ned Glandwr. He had been adopted by the Glandwr family. He had been a sailor and liked the company of the pub and the opportunity to tell tales. One night the pub was washed away in a great flood and the barrels of beer floated away into the sea. Still the place became more sober without the Royal Oak.
I'd like to mention the way in which Calennig was collected in my youth. The children would get up early, and this was their song:
Dydd Calan cyntaf y flwynddyn
Rwyn dyfod ar eich traws
I mofyn am y ceiniog
Neu glwt o fara a chaws.
O dewch i'r drws yn siriol
Newidiwch gdim och gwedd
Canys erbyn Dydd Calan nesaf
Bydd llawer yn y bedd.
(Its New Years Day and I'm on your doorstep, asking for a penny or a piece of bread and cheese. O come happy to the door, don't change your expression, for before next New Year's Day many will be dead and buried.)
Their little voices were so pure and their smiles, after receiving a new penny and a big slice of ‘bara brith' were so large. Things have changed and more recently the children sang "It's a long way to Tipperary' and such like.
Before closing I would like to pay tribute to the first schoolmistress in Cwmpadarn School, an Englishwoman called Miss Powell. She was a real lady and was greatly respected by us all. I was about seven when I first went to school. We couldn't speak any English since Welsh was the language at home, but with Miss Powell's teaching we quickly learned English well. We were only about eight or nine pupils when they opened the school, and I'm the only one still alive. The School Board clerk was called David Jones and he came once a month from Aberystwyth when the School Board met, and he clearly had his eye on Miss Powell, for they eventually married and left the area.
I've greatly enjoyed recording these memories in the twilight of my life, although I know they are not written in a very polished manner - I haven't the talent for that. But the memories are all entirely true, and not just imaginings. My memory is clear, thank God. I am a long way from my dear Wales, and in poor health with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
The above was written by: Mrs J.A. Miller, Cartref, 54 Vegal Crescent, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey. It was written in 1957.
Translated into English by: D.R.Barnes, Penglais School, Aberystwyth.
Typescript by A.W.Gilbey, Penglais School, Aberystwyth. 1982.