Monday, 9 May 2022

Rebecca Riots, Ceffyl Pren and the age of innocence


I have just been reading about the Carmarthen celebration (on May 1st) of the Rebecca Riots, in a somewhat strange artistic event in which three men dressed up as "female" rioters -- without a blackened face in sight.

This was in contrast to the 2014 celebrations in Efailwen:

Eight years ago, the BBC website covered the event, and published photos of men dressed in female garb, and with blackened faces and white linen bonnets.  That was fine, and was a pretty good representation of what went on in the Rebecca Riots and the Ceffyl Pren tradition that pre-dated the riots and continued for some time afterwards. It needs to be emphasised that the blackened faces had absolutely nothing to do with racism or racial stereotyping, and everything to do with hiding identities.  All of the rioters must have been familiar with the idea that (like chimney sweeps) black-faced men emerging from the west Wales coal mines at the end of their shifts were none too easy to recognize -- and so the tradition of blackening faces went along with the costumes and the straw hair, the bonnets and the aprons to ensure that bystanders could not put names to faces.  And it worked -- very few rioters were ever brought to justice.  

I can fully understand why the word "nigger" has effectively been banned from the English language, and why people on radio and TV nowadays refer obliquely to "the n-word" instead.  There is great sensitivity out there, and political correctness is everything -- while at the same time there is greater and greater tolerance of verbal obscenities, with swearing now so commonplace that it has become more than a little sickening........

Strange old world.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Nineteenth century industrialisation in Pembrokeshire

A lot was going on in Pembrokeshire in the first part of the Nineteenth Century, when Martha Morgan was in her prime.  Plas Ingli and the estate, and Martha's life, were not much affected by the process of industrialisation, but now and then its effects appear in the stories.

Wilmot Gwynne, when he appears on the scene, has made his fortune in the copper industry of the Swansea area, and of course the theme of "Guardian Angel" is all to do with the voracious appetite of the iron industry monster -- which comes too close to home for comfort.......

Anyway, fascinating short summaries and great photographic illustrations are contained on this web site.  Well worth a browse........

We are climbing Angel Mountain

I came across this rather splendid album from singer Rhys Williams, featuring Angel Mountain in the title and main track.  A great voice -- and his diction is excellent.  I hope the record becomes a great success for him........

You can also find the tracks on Spotify, by putting "We are climbing Angel Mountain" into the search box.

The recordings were made in 2016 and 2017.

Here is Rhys's web site:

The Angel Mountain iris


Not everybody knows this, but there is a gorgeous Japanese iris (you can get it from commercial growers) called "Angel Mountain".  Was its breeder inspired by Martha Morgan and her adventures?  Probably not, but it's a nice thought........

Friday, 22 April 2022

Carningli -- Brynach's shelter?

 Many thanks to Hugh Thomas for publishing this image in his recent drone footage of Carningli -- published on Preseli 360.  

It shows the very subtle semicircular "bank" of stones around the edge of the grassy hollow on the summit of the mountain.  According to legend, this is where St Brynach communed with the angels. It is quite possible that there was a rough shelter here, using the rocky outcrops for half of the circle and a little bank of boulders and stones for the other half, maybe with roof of supporting branches covered with rough thatch or bark and turfs.  Maybe it was horizontal, or maybe sloping. 

There have been no excavations here as far as we know.  But there has been intermittent occupation of the mountain down through the centuries -- so a shelter here could be Bronze Age, or Iron Age, or from the Age of the Saints, or even from the Middle Ages.  Maybe it was even built and rebuilt many times....... by people who needed to be up here for one reason or another......

Friday, 15 April 2022

To Paradise and Back

This is the web site devoted to telling the tale of the Hoole / Stephens family, as far back as we can trace it.  Many people have contributed to the collection of information.  Some of it is true, and some of it is probably mythology.  Maybe we will never know the full truth -- but it is an extraordinary story nonetheless.....

My mother Gwladys John (then Stephens) was born in Port Elizabeth in 1906, and her family returned to Wales in 1915.

You can click on this link:

Monday, 28 February 2022

Pwnc at Capel Jabes

I thought this was lost for ever, but the BBC has kept this on the archive, and has made it accessible online, here:

It's from a programmes called "The Hills of David", first transmitted in the 1960's. I think the first part (the Pwnc) was filmed in Jabes Chapel, and it's great to see the boys and girls singing the Pwnc with such clarity and confidence.  The second part was filmed in Ffynnondici Farm, and captures the Hen Galan celebrations very nicely.  

Some familiar faces in there........ 

Saturday, 26 February 2022

The Parrog sea defences


Erratic boulders of dolerite were used in the earliest phases of sea wall construction, to provide a solid foundation.

This slipway is made partly of dolerite boulders collected locally, and partly of slate slabs from the sea quarries.

Here we can see that an old set of steps has been abandoned as the height of the wall has been increased.  Also, lines of new boulders were brought in to prevent the wall from being undercut by wave erosion.

The Parrog sea defences are rather fascinating!  They were built mostly in the early 1800s in the heyday of the port, when vessels were coming and going on almost every tide.  Some of them were actually built as trading quays, designed for vessels to tie up alongside, but they were hardly ever used as intended, because except at extreme spring tides there was never an adequate depth of water.  So vessels were mostly loaded and unloaded as they lay on the sandbanks around the river mouth, held up with props, with horses and carts carrying the goods in and out of the Parrog warehousers and to the storage area now occupied by the car park.  

Originally there was a spit of land projecting from the south shore of the estuary, and the Barony of Cemais agreed to requests in the 1700s for the building of storehouses and lime kilns.  Then, in the  early 1800's private landowners and the Barony combined to provide a protective wall of slate slabs, to raise the level of the old spit to make it secure from storms and spring tides, and to add more warehouses and other buildings close to the double lime kiln (which still exists). 

They also had to protect the shoreline to the west, where assorted fishermen's and seamen's cottages were very vulnerable to the waves especially when the wind was in the north.

So the defences were built, using slate or meta mudstone slabs from the sea quarries between Parrog and Cwm yr Eglwys.  It's obvious from examining the walls that there were many phases of construction and many changes of plans. There are slipways giving access down onto the sandy shore, drainage piped and gullies, buttresses, old flights of steps and a great deal more.  There is even a little dock next to the Boat Club, where vessels could be hauled up at high tide.  One day somebody will elucidate what was built, and why, and when.........

Friday, 21 January 2022

Martha's territory

Here are a few of the gorgeous photos assembled in recent months, giving glimpses pf "Martha's territory"  - coast, woodlands and mountains.  Some are my own, others are from the PCC and NPA collection, some are from "commons" web sites, and some are published by Ruth Crofts and Deborah Tilley.  

The 8 books of the saga

Here is the full bibliographic information about the 8 paperbacks:

Brian John, Trefelin, Cilgwyn, Newport, Pembrokeshire SA42 OQN
Tel: 01239 - 820470. Email:  Web:

The Angel Mountain Saga
Eight volumes are now available in this best-selling series -- with over 100,000 copies sold.
All eight novels are also available as Bolinda audiobooks.  

On Angel Mountain (Part One), Greencroft Books 2001. 
ISBN 9780905559803. A5 paperback, 328 pp, £6.99.

House of Angels (Part Two), Greencroft Books 2002. 
ISBN 9780905559810. A5 paperback, 432 pp, £7.99.

Dark Angel (Part Three), Greencroft Books 2003. 
ISBN 9780905559827. A5 paperback, 432 pp, £8.50.

Rebecca and the Angels (Part Four), Greencroft Books 2004. 
ISBN 9780905559834. A5 paperback, 432 pp, £8.50.

Flying with Angels (Part Five), Greencroft Books, 2005. 
ISBN 9780905559841. A5 paperback, 400 pp, £7.99.

Guardian Angel (Part Six), Greencroft Books, 2008. 
ISBN 9780905559865. A5 paperback, 256 pp, £6.99.

Sacrifice (Part Seven), Greencroft Books, 2009. 
ISBN 9780905559902. A5 paperback, 352 pp, £7.99.

Conspiracy of Angels (Part Eight), Greencroft Books, 2012. 
ISBN 9780905559933. A5 paperback, 352 pp, £7.99.

Thursday, 20 January 2022

The essence of place

I love the manner in which the essence of place can sometimes be captured in a piece of music or an image.  This is Daniel's Jok (Yoik) sung by Jon Henrik,  who came to Sweden as an orphan from Colombia and who has made an amazing career as  a moderniser of the Sami or Lapland yoik tradition.  He won the Sweden's Got Talent competition in 2014 with this song, composed in memory of his friend Daniel.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

On sex and sin....

Martha promises -- somewhat rashly -- that she will organize a church wedding for her great friend Patty Ellis, who used to be a prostitute..........

This is from Chapter 2 of "Dark Angel".
Sometimes, writing fiction can be quite enjoyable.......


So it was that I arrived at the Rectory on time at eleven of the clock, to be helped down from my horse by Master Devonald's man. I felt apprehensive but not afraid, and a good deal more confident than I might have done even a year ago in a similar circumstance. The Rector and his wife appeared at the front door to greet me, and after exchanging pleasantries she went off to fetch some tea while he and I settled into the study for our conversation about matrimonial matters. “Well well, this is very pleasant,” said he. “I am delighted to hear of the betrothal of you and Master Owain Laugharne. An excellent match, if I may say so. Two good old families coming together in harmony. Very good. Very good. Now then, on the matter of the arrangements?”

“I am sorry to disappoint you, Rector, but those particular arrangements can wait for a little while. The settlement has still to be finalized, and no date is set. I have come to discuss another marriage.”

“Oh indeed? Well well, let us see if we can help. And who might the happy couple be?”

“Patty Ellis and Jake Nicholas, who live on the Parrog.”

I watched Master Devonald’s face with more than a little interest. First it registered puzzlement, then comprehension, and then apprehension, and finally horror. His face reddened, and his eyes started to bulge. His feet twitched, and his knuckles whitened as he clenched his fists. Then he started to breathe deeply, as he sought to control his own emotions. He closed his eyes and brought his hands up to his chin in a gesture of prayer. The ticking of the clock on his study wall grew very loud.

I knew that I had a problem and a challenge on my hands. “Are you surprised, Rector?” I asked. “I presume you know the good people on whose behalf I am here?”

“Yes, I know of them,” he replied in a strangled voice. “The one is a fisherman by trade, and the other is a common.......”

Buffoon that he is, he could not bring himself to mention the word. So I helped him. “A common whore?”

He nodded like a frail old man carrying the weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders. At last he steeled himself to face the problem which now confronted him. He straightened his back and looked me in the eye. “I cannot possibly allow it,” he said, as masterfully as he could. “It is absolutely out of the question for a prostitute to be married in the House of God. Maybe a license can be arranged, but there is no way that I will marry those two in church.”

“You disappoint me, Rector.”

“Your disappointment, Mistress Morgan, is a small price to pay for an irrevocable decision which is based upon a respect for the Ten Commandments and upon my desire to encourage virtue among my parishioners.”

I felt that matters were now getting interesting, and I decided that I would not leave the study until the wedding was duly arranged. Mistress Devonald came in, served tea and cakes with a sweet smile upon her face, and then retired to the warmth of the kitchen when she sensed a chill in the air.

I worked out my strategy while I nibbled and sipped. Then I played my opening card. “On the matter of Patty Ellis’s profession,” I said, “may I remind you, Rector, that it is a thing of the past? She is a reformed character, as many of your parishioners will attest, since they now have to travel all the way to Moll Liberal Favours in Fishguard when they have a few pennies to spend.”

The Rector flushed to a beautiful shade of crimson. “Whatever do you mean?” he spluttered.

“You know perfectly well what I mean. I do not need to elaborate. And are you aware, Rector, of the circumstances which drove Patty into prostitution?” He shook his head wearily, and I continued. “Then I will explain. It will be no bad thing, in my view, for you and other gentlemen in authority to know what has happened to this poor girl; we might then move from condemnation towards compassion, and from punishment towards rehabilitation. We might even seek to move towards an understanding of the word “forgiveness”, since that is a word we do not hear very often from your pulpit.”

That, in retrospect, was very unkind of me, and also risky, since I have to admit to a somewhat haphazard attendance at church myself. But I calculated that since the Rector’s attendance in church is also haphazard, I might get away with my insolence. And so it transpired. Before he could open his mouth to respond, I told him the full story of Patty’s entrapment by Joseph Rice, and of her miserable life in the boudoir while he lived in some comfort as a pimp. The Rector is not very familiar with the details of a whore’s life, and I daresay that he found my narrative more than a little enlightening.

By the time I had finished, Master Devonald was sunk deeply into his chair, with an expression of resignation on his face. Poor fellow, I thought, he is kind enough, and does his best, but he should really have been an attorney’s clerk or a shopkeeper rather than a man of the cloth. I almost started to feel sorry for him, but then I remembered that I had a job to do, and that one should always kick a man when he is down.

“I am not very practiced in matters theological, Rector, but did not our Good Lord have more than a passing acquaintance with a lady called Mary Magdalene?” He nodded weakly, for he could see where this was leading. “And did he not demonstrate, in his dealings with her, that those who are fallen can be saved, and that those who are penitent and who change their ways may enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Am I free of sin? Are you, Master Devonald, ordained as a priest, free of sin? But we poor sinners take comfort from the promise of redemption. Did Christ not also say that all of us, no matter what our station in life, obtain grace through forgiveness, and that we must seek to follow his will? My dear Rector, do you have the good grace to forgive this poor girl, and to extend the hand of friendship towards her?”

I dare say that this piece of sermonizing on my part was all very garbled, but it had the effect of keeping him quiet. Before he had had a chance of working out a theological riposte, and while he was still down, I thought I might as well kick him again.

“On more practical matters, Rector, how many allocated pews do you have in St Mary’s Church?”

He looked at first surprised and then suspicious. He knew that this was going to lead somewhere, but he could not work out the direction of travel or the steepness of the slope. “About fifteen, I believe,” he said.

“I thought as much. You include, no doubt, the Morgans of Plas Ingli. That means that fifteen of the best families in this area contribute to your wellbeing, and to the upkeep of the church, as well as paying their tithes on time and making contributions to the poor rate?”

He nodded. Then I said: “Would you like me to tell you how many of the squires who sit in those pews of a Sunday morning, all happily married and seen as the very pillars of society, have been regular clients of Patty Ellis in her cottage on the Parrog?”

“You would not dare!” exclaimed the Rector, with the look of a hunted man on his face.

“Indeed I would. I happen to be very friendly with Patty Ellis, but in the days before she became a reformed lady her tongue was as loose as her morals. I assure you that I know a great deal about her clients. And before I forget, may I ask you a theological question?”

“Oh dear, I suppose so.”

“On the scale of things, when we stand at the Pearly Gates and are called to account, which is the greater sin, fornication or adultery? Is it not the case that adultery is mentioned in the Ten Commandments, but that there is no mention of fornication? And might that be because the former involves betrayal, whereas the latter simply involves frailty, and the sharing of a little pleasure by two like minded people?”

Once again I perceived that I was in danger of getting a somewhat complicated and protracted theological response, so I continued after a sip of tea. “To carry on where I left off. Rector, would you like the names of those august gentlemen who sit before you in their paid pews and who have, to my certain knowledge, betrayed their wives and families and made adulterous visits to Patty’s feather bed?”

“No, I beg of you, Mistress Martha, please do not tell me. It is probably best that I do not know these things.” He squirmed in his seat, and wrung his hands just as despicable whingeing characters do in cheap novels.

“Very well, Rector. I will keep this secret. But your part of the bargain will be to announce to the world that Patty is forgiven, that she will be welcomed into the bosom of the Church, and that you will give her and Jake a church wedding.”

“This sounds to me like blackmail, and blackmail ill becomes a lady.”

“No no, Rector. What we are talking about is a course of action which brings mutual benefit. I make an oath of secrecy, you demonstrate Christian charity to your parishioners, and Patty and Jake get a Church wedding. By the way, I will pay for it. Happiness all round.”

“ And if I do not cooperate in this murky business?”

“Then I will give you the list of names, and await your response. A public denunciation of the adulterous squires from your pulpit should suffice.”

“Absolutely impossible! The Lord Marcher would probably take away my living, and my relations with the good families of this area would be at an end!”

“But you would be a hero with the poor people, as well as showing yourself to be a true man of God. You must decide, Rector, which may be the lesser of two evils.”

The poor fellow moaned and slumped deep into his chair once again. Time for one final kick with my booted foot. “And by the way, I forgot to mention that my father, whose estate is at Brawdy, is on the most amiable of terms with the Bishop of St David’s. They wine and dine frequently, and share many confidences. Having given you the list of adulterous squires, I will of course ensure that the Bishop is informed of the scandalous situation that has developed in Newport. He will no doubt keep a careful eye on your actions in upholding virtue and condemning vice.”

The rector was now entirely at my mercy, and he knew it. I have to admit to enjoying the situation, and to feeling more than a little sorry for him, for he is by no means a bad fellow. He follows his calling moderately well, and ministers to his flock appropriately enough when occasion demands it. But he does like a peaceful life, just like the rest of us. He had no option but to agree to my proposal, and admitted as much.

“Will you now go to visit Patty and Jake in their cottage as a gesture of forgiveness? The locals will take note, and will be very impressed. There is a lot of sympathy for the couple on the Parrog. There will be some wagging tongues, especially from the Baptists, but you can deal with them, and if I get the chance I will defend your actions and express my admiration for your magnanimity. Others will do the same. Your standing in the community, Rector, will be greatly enhanced. You may take it from me.”

He brightened up noticeably. “Do you really think so?” he asked.

“Absolutely. And you will also make the Nonconformists, in their complaining, look mean-spirited and vengeful in the eyes of fair-minded people. Will you now fix a date with Jake and Patty, and arrange for the reading of the banns?”

“Yes, very well. But what if I receive objections from my congregation on the basis that Patty is -- or was -- a loose woman?”

“I doubt that you will. The squires who are Patty’s past clients will certainly not say a word, and if anybody else does, I am sure you can deal with anything that might be raised. You have the final word, Rector, on whether any objection is serious enough to be considered as a true impediment to marriage, and I have every confidence, in the interests of all those involved, that the marriage will go ahead.”

I smiled at the Rector, and he smiled a weak smile in return, and it was clear that we understood each other. Then I stood up. “I really must be going,” I said. “Thank you so much, Rector, for the delightful refreshments and for our most interesting conversation. We must talk again of theological matters one day, since I am keen to know more about the scriptures.”

“Heaven forbid, Mistress Morgan! Of course you are always welcome at the Rectory, but may I suggest that you leave the scriptures, and the interpretation of them, in my hands?” And to his credit he chuckled at his little joke, and then gave a great roar of laughter, and I had to follow suit. And so we parted on the best of terms.

Twenty minutes later I knocked on the door of Patty’s cottage on the Parrog. After my triumph I was grinning like a Cheshire cat, and she welcomed me with open arms. She invited me inside. She was alone, for Jake was out on the shore of the tidal basin, doing things to his boat.

“It is all fixed!” I declared. “You and Jake can have your church wedding!”

Patty could hardly believe it, and before long the pair of us were dancing around her front room and giggling and screaming like a pair of hysterical little girls. I fear that the neighbours must have been very shocked, for sound travels easily on the Parrog. At last we calmed down enough to talk, and Patty insisted that I gave her all the details of my conversation with the Rector. As I spoke she looked more and more surprised, and at last she intervened, and said: “But Mistress Martha, who are all these worthy squires who are supposed to have paid me visits in the past? I declare that I cannot remember a single one of them coming here.”

“Oh dear, is that so?” said I. “What a pity. Perhaps I have misheard something, or misunderstood the matter. I really must concentrate more in the future, and ensure that I get my facts right.....”

And we embraced, and had another fit of childish hysterics, and wept tears of unadulterated joy.