Author Archives: alexandervelky

UK General Election 2019: Predictions, Projections, Pontifications

This blog vacillates between diary, micronational political fantasy, and local history, depending on what’s preoccupying me at any given time. More lately it’s been a place to record the historical details of the old defunct farmhouses of Mynachlogddu parish. But this winter I’ve become preoccupied with the forthcoming UK General Election, and (foolishly!) trying to predict the results. Once this is over and I’ve adjusted to inevitable disappointment, I aim to return to the local history. But for now, I’m going to summarise the predictions I’ve made for the results of the general election, by analysing voting patterns from recent decades across all 650 constituencies and trying to weigh the data against prominent issues that have recurred throughout the campaign.

What will happen?

Polling suggests a Conservative victory, and mostly disagrees only on the scale of that result. But aggregated polling has been far enough out in recent years to fail to predict the Conservative majority in 2015 (where it suggested a hung parliament), the EU Referendum result (where it predicted a Remain victory), and the 2017 General Election result (where it predicted a Conservative majority). To get my bias out of the way, I’m a Labour party member since 2017. I’m voting Labour. I want a Labour victory. Ideally a majority; more realistically, perhaps, a minority government in collaboration with other left-wing parties, Greens, Plaid Cymru, SNP – and, if absolutely necessary, the Liberal Democrats. Being realistic, I do not expect to get what I want. And as long as a Labour Majority remains unlikely (and it does; to the point of being almost impossible) I’m hoping the Conservatives fall short of a majority (i.e. that they return fewer than 326 MPs). And my reading of the data suggests they will probably fall just short.

Why?

There are many factors at play. It’s not just a case of whose manifesto is the most attractive or credible to voters. Personality is a big factor too; and while neither leader is very popular with the electorate, we’re told that Jeremy Corbyn is especially less popular than his party’s policies – for a combination of factors, including the overwhelmingly negative media coverage by the mostly Conservative-leaning papers, and the ongoing antisemitism scandal which has dogged the Labour party in recent years, and for which he is frequently blamed. More important than any of the above (probably?) is Brexit. The UK voted by a slim majority in 2016 (before the last GE) to leave the EU. This process became known as Brexit, and people have been arguing about how to do it (or whether we even should) ever since. It’s impossible to know just how decisive a factor this is, but the Conservatives, led by Boris Johnson under the instruction of Number One Brexit Fan Dominic Cummings, have put all their eggs in the Brexit basket. In 2017 when Labour did much better than most people predicted (but still lost) both major parties were promising Brexit. This time, the Conservatives are promising to “get Brexit done” – a reductive and misleading slogan which falsely suggests a majority for Johnson will end the issue for good, deliver on the numerous promises of the referendum, and remove the bothersomely divisive issue from public debate. Reductive and misleading though the slogan is, it’s very good, and seems to be doing well for them. Labour’s position is a hard sell by comparison: essentially they’re offering a different Brexit “deal” – a withdrawal agreement that will allow the UK to “leave” the EU but remain closely aligned; which deal would then be put to a public vote where it’s unclear who, if anyone, would campaign in favour of it. A lot more detail could be gone in to, but frankly this preamble is already exponentially bloating, so I’ll break this paragraph and summarise.

Demographic voting patterns are shifting. But how far will they shift? Both major parties enjoyed a big lift in vote share two years ago, when both were promising some sort of Brexit, and when the Conservatives secured most of the (52%) leave vote, while Labour secured most of the remain vote. The Liberal Democrats were squeezed out, and in Scotland the SNP lost some of their momentum, following an almost clean sweep in 2015 (prior to a Scottish independence referendum which they nevertheless narrowly lost). This time the SNP is widely expected to bounce back and take seats from Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland. Most of the rest of the result will depend on three factors, which I will pose as questions:

  1. Can the Conservatives deliver on the 2017 promise of making significant inroads in the Labour-voting (Leave voting) parts of the North of England? (Since we’re partial, we’ll call this “The Blue Plague”.)
  2. Will the traditional Labour vote turn out (for an apparently unpopular leader) to allow the party to retain (and perhaps win) key marginals in Wales, London, and the south of England? (“The Red Wedgie”.)
  3. Will the Liberal Democrats gain any (or many) Tory remain-voting seats in London and the south of England? (“The Yellow Surge”.)

In the event of a hung parliament, what happens next could suddenly depend on the smaller parties: the SNP (in Scotland), the Lib-Dems, Plaid Cymru (in Wales), the Greens, and the Northern Irish Parties (mostly the DUP and possibly the SDLP and the UUP; less so Sinn Feinn as they don’t take their seats). Finally, any independent MPs could hold the balance of power. BUT: if the parliament is hung, it’s only Brexit that’s likely to be addressed. It’s highly unlikely any other major policy plans could be implemented if neither of the major parties achieves a majority.

So we’ll take a look at the voting by region, starting with Wales (because Wales is the best part of the UK) and ending with Northern Ireland (because I’ve never been there and know very little about it). First of all, a brief explanation of the two processes I’ve used to make my predictions.

Data Divination and Noise Reports

Wikipedia is the short answer. Wikipedia and Twitter is the longer one. I hereby make a written note to donate to Wikipedia next time I have some money. Data divination is, as the term suggests, a combination of science and quackery. I look at the results from the last few general elections alongside the profiles of the demographics in each constituency, and consider alongside the issues of the campaign (and who is standing for which party) I try to “divine” from the data where the votes are likely to head this time around. The “noise report” is anything beyond that: polling, local polling, anecdotal evidence, campaigners’ bold claims, who’s been focusing attention where and what sort of reception they’ve been getting. All of this is even less scientific, and only in particular cases will it amend the initial prediction I’ve made after the data divination.

Right then.

Wales

Reports of the Welsh Labour party’s demise are greatly exaggerated

Contrary to even the most optimistic polling, I predict Labour will do well in Wales, gaining many seats and losing few; further cementing their already considerable lead with only a modest upswing (or even a stagnation) of their national vote share. Conservative ambitions will fall short again, and Plaid and the Lib-Dems will be squeezed out by the main parties, even if both enjoy an upswing in vote share, it will not translate to seats. The results could feasibly fall anywhere within the range, as indicated in the left-hand column), but my predictions for seats changing hands in Wales are as follows:

  1. Labour GAIN Aberconwy from Conservatives
  2. Labour GAIN Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire from Conservatives
  3. Labour GAIN Ceredigion from Plaid Cymru
  4. Labour GAIN Monmouth from Conservatives
  5. Labour GAIN Preseli Pembrokeshire from Conservatives
  6. Labour GAIN Vale of Glamorgan from Conservatives
  7. Conservatives GAIN Wrexham from Labour

1, 5, and 6 seem to me natural results of recent trends with Conservative candidates who have either received negative news coverage lately or have been falling from favour. 5, my home constituency, is one of many seats I predict based on what I perceive to be a misplaced reliance on the sustained enthusiasm for Brexit among a relatively high Leave-voting population. If enough people have become disillusioned, then Labour becomes the “change” vote. And after 9 years of public services being bulldozed, people are ready for change, in one form or another. 2 and 4 are much farther reaches, based on a similar philosophy, and might (on my part) be overreaches; but in spite of Corbyn’s lack of popularity, I think an even greater aversion to Boris Johnson will edge the vote toward Labour in close or marginal seats where Plaid Cymru and the Lib-Dems are mathematically unlikely alternatives: the Red Wedgie I talked about earlier.

This leaves 3 and 7. 7 is the one seat following the Blue Plague model: the Northeast of Wales has more in common with the North of England than South Wales, demographically and politically, I think. If the Tories have a good night, there could be many more Wrexhams. But I think Wrexham at least will fall.

3 is perhaps an even bolder (or more outlandish) call than 2 or 4. I have thrown this in as a wildcard, or a fluke. While Ynys Mon could feasibly go to any one of 3 parties (Labour, Plaid or the Tories) I don’t think it will change hands this time. But complicated voting patterns combined with demographic shifting (and a big student vote) could allow Labour to sneak in through the back door while the Lib-Dems and Plaid are battling it out for one of the UK’s closest marginal seats, where no “Unite to Remain” alliance was agreed between the 2 remain-supporting parties who both see the seat as “their” territory.

I do not think the Brexit party will come close to winning anything.

Southwest England

The Tory hegemony in the SW begins to crumble under its own weight.

There’s hardly anything for the Conservatives to win in SW England, because they already own almost all of the seats. This gives them one way to go, if they go anywhere: down. The Lib-Dems could have won 8 seats if they’d concentrated their efforts here and in the SE: but they overestimated the Yellow Surge early on, based on local elections and EU parliament votes, ignoring evidence from all recent (FPTP) UK general elections. Their gains will be slight; but so will anyone else’s. Dick Cole will not become Mebyon Kernow’s first MP (and not for the first time) and the Greens won’t win, because Labour’s manifesto is too green to give them enough oxygen:

  1. Lib-Dems GAIN St Ives from Conservatives
  2. Labour GAIN Truro and Falmouth from Conservatives
  3. Independent GAINs East Devon from Conservatives
  4. Conservatives GAIN Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport from Labour
  5. Lib-Dems GAIN Cheltenham from Conservatives
  6. Labour GAIN South Swindon from Conservatives

1 and 5 are straight-up Yellow Surges, and there may be others (e.g. Tory defector Sarah Wollaston in Totnes, or others in West Dorset, North Devon, North Cornwall…) The Plymouth seat has vacillated in recent years, and the Brexit party presence could squeeze enough Labour leave juice from the Corbyn-sceptic electorate. 2 is a long-shot, and (in my view) the likeliest of the many places where Labour emerged as a close 2nd in 2017 to actually push over the line. A strong green vote (for my MA tutor, funnily enough) could however keep the seat Tory. East Devon’s independent gain for Claire Wright, if it comes to pass, will be one of the stories of the election.

Southeast England

Modest losses for the Conservatives in the Southeast.

Similarly to the Southwest, the Conservative hegemony in the Southeast is widespread and longstanding. I predict it will be chipped away at in a few, mostly remain-voting areas, but that overall it will hold fast. A true Yellow Surge could see seats like Woking, Wantage, Guildford, Meon Valley, and Raab’s much-rumoured but surely-unlikely Esher and Walton go Lib-Dem; but I see no likelihood of such strong winds of change. Labour have little to gain, and little to lose.

  1. Conservatives GAIN Buckingham [formerly the Speaker’s seat]
  2. Labour GAIN Milton Keynes North from Conservatives
  3. Labour GAIN Milton Keynes South from Conservatives
  4. Labour GAIN Hastings and Rye from Conservatives
  5. Lib-Dems GAIN Lewes from Conservatives
  6. Conservatives GAIN Portsmouth North from Labour
  7. Labour GAIN Southampton Itchen from Conservatives
  8. Lib-Dems GAIN Winchester from Conservatives

I’ve predicted about 100 seat-swaps in this election and the number might be unrealistically high; but all are quite possible. The balance might be tipped in favour of who holds onto their 2017 gains, as opposed to who makes the most new ones. Labour will lose seats to the leave voters switching in the north, so if they don’t manage to push the 2s, 3s, 4s and 7s over the line, it’ll be a rough night, and a Conservative majority is very likely. On the other hand, while 6 seems likely to me, there are a couple of other less likely but possible Tory gains in the South: Labour-held Brighton Kemptown was a bellwether for many years, but it voted strongly to remain in 2016. Lib-Dem held Eastbourne

That London

High-profile Tory losses in London could include IDS, or even PM Boris Johnson.

The Lib-Dems put all their early hopes into hoovering up the Remain vote in London; so much so that they parachuted several high-profile candidates into Con-Lab and Lab-Con marginal constituencies, where their eventual influence seems likeliest to ensure a Brexit-supporting Tory candidate wins by a whisker. The late-campaign FPTP squeeze has seen them row back on some of these ambitions (as well as Jo Swinson’s apparently earnest desire to be PM); but the daft bar-charts claiming the Lib-Dems were the only credible opposition in numerous seats they had no hope of winning had already been printed and distributed, so the eventual London vote has a very wide margin of error. My predictions may prove, from a Labour perspective, overly optimistic. But these are they:

  1. Conservatives GAIN Brentford and Isleworth from Labour
  2. Conservatives GAIN Carshalton and Wallington from Lib-Dems
  3. Labour GAIN Chingford and Woodford Green from Conservatives
  4. Labour GAIN Chipping Barnet from Conservatives
  5. Conservatives GAIN Dagenham and Rainham from Labour
  6. Conservatives GAIN Enfield Southgate from Labour
  7. Labour GAIN Finchley and Golders Green from Conservatives
  8. Labour GAIN Harrow East from Conservatives
  9. Labour GAIN Hendon from Conservatives
  10. Labour GAIN Putney from Conservatives
  11. Lib-Dems GAIN Richmond Park from Conservatives
  12. Labour GAIN Uxbridge and South Ruislip from Conservatives
  13. Labour GAIN Wimbledon from Conservatives

If trends were as set as the forecasters like to think, there would be nowhere near this many seat-swaps; and there may not be. But as Bambos Charalambous said (and I might be paraphrasing): “there will be 650 local elections on December 12th”. The results will be half based on Brexit-preference, and half on whether Labour’s radical(ish) anti-austerity manifesto can outshout the antisemitism-themed character-assassination of Jeremy Corbyn; which I should clarify that I do not believe to be either true or even truly felt on the part of the majority of the mud-slingers, or I would not be voting Labour. A combination of factors have led us here. (And let’s not forget he was an IRA-loving, Queen-hating traitor and a terrorist-sympathiser – like the city’s centre-left mayor, according to Zac Goldsmith – last time around.) The Labour party is by no means blameless or guiltless where antisemitism is concerned, having seemingly put party loyalty and woeful cloth-earedness ahead of the concerns of Jews at various points over the last few years. Undoubtedly mistakes have been made, and maybe the leader is guilty of acting too slowly or not apologising quite frequently or readily enough; but those who already despise his politics or unduly or cynically suspect his anti-Israel stance to be a front for something more sinister, were never going to be convinced by his actual words and actions, going back decades, and have been working tirelessly to seek out evidence to build a case against him; while happily ignoring equivalent evidence from without the Labour party. In truth, there has been an ugly upsurge in anti-Jewish conspiracy theories across society in recent years; going hand-in-hand with the general growing nastiness that has been ignored, allowed, and even encouraged, in all quarters. Antisemitism is always there in European society anyway; whether people are conscious of it or acknowledge it or not; it is ever-present in some of the pro-Palestine, anti-capitalist far-left fringes, as well as among the Brexit-embracing anti-globalists, and, or course – always most worryingly – the lurking lunatic far-right. Some of it is blatant and calculated; most (like most other forms of racism) is born of genuine ignorance, though no less worrying for that. Will it have an electoral impact, is the somewhat callous-sounding crux of the matter for the purposes of this blog? Frankly, there are probably far more actual antisemites in the UK than there are Jews, but I doubt either demographic will be voting Labour in any great percentage. The Brexit wing of the Tory party is a much more comfortable home for bigotry, jingoism and other-blaming than Corbyn’s Labour could ever be. That Finchley and Golders Green could go Labour (as I predict) under the circumstances of 2019 might seem impossible, but a complex swathe of allegiance-shifting could see the seat become a three-way marginal and I think Labour might edge it on mathematical grounds, rather than as a moral victory (which it would not be). I think Enfield Southgate (another seat with a significant Jewish community) will be another story, but I might have got it the wrong way around, or indeed entirely wrong. Boris Johnson and Ian Duncan Smith could, and I think will, both lose their seats, as much as a reflection of the UK’s newfound taste for upsetting apple-carts and embracing chaos as for any true political reason.

West Midlands

West Midlands: a Lib-Dem free land?

This far up the country is where the likelihood of Conservative gains from Labour increases, and the reverse decreases, as a general pattern. My caveat to this (and my data divination generally) is that my own bias is likely to lead me to make 50/50 calls in favour of my party. I try not to, but it’s inevitable. So:

  1. Labour GAIN Telford from Conservatives
  2. Conservatives GAIN Newcastle-under-Lyme from Labour
  3. Conservatives GAIN Stoke-on-Trent North from Labour
  4. Conservatives GAIN Dudley North from Labour
  5. Conservatives GAIN Walsall South from Labour
  6. Conservatives GAIN West Bromwich West from Labour

This is mostly Blue Plague stuff. In fact, the whole region (more or less) is leave voting, so it could be even more virulent, if people are still attached to the idea that Brexit is an “opportunity”. Places like Dudley North don’t even seem likely to be marginal next time around.

East of England

A modest Yellow Surge, with more Lib-Dem gains possible.

I see seats changing hands here, but no major trends. The story in the national context is that the region is as Tory as the south, but most of the Tory bits voted leave anyway, so the handful of swaps (which I think will more or less balance out) will be along Brexit-voting lines:

  1. Conservatives GAIN Luton North from Labour
  2. Conservatives GAIN Peterborough from Labour
  3. Lib-Dems GAIN St Albans from Conservatives
  4. Labour GAIN Watford from Conservatives
  5. Labour GAIN Norwich North from Conservatives
  6. Conservatives GAIN Ipswich from Labour

The wildcard here is that the Lib-Dems could pick up a few more seats (off both parties) in remain-voting places like Cambridge (Labour) and South Cambridgeshire (Conservatives).

East Midlands

Same story as the West Midlands, but with different accents. Mostly Leave-voting, and trends from last time’s (similar but different) election suggest Labour will lose out to the Tories. I’ve actually estimated against Labour in this region, based mostly on the strength of the leave vote in some seats – so we’ll see whether this really is the Brexit election, based on how accurate these are:

  1. Conservatives GAIN Bolsover from Labour
  2. Conservatives GAIN Derby North from Labour
  3. Conservatives GAIN High Peak from Labour
  4. Conservatives GAIN Lincoln from Labour
  5. Labour GAIN Northampton North from Conservatives
  6. Conservatives GAIN Ashfield from Labour
  7. Conservatives GAIN Bassetlaw from Labour
  8. Labour GAIN Broxtowe from Conservatives
  9. Conservatives GAIN Gedling from Labour

The two possible Labour gains are due to particular circumstances in the candidacy: one, a popular former MP (who just happens to share a name with my mother-in-law); the other one where some of the Tory vote might be siphoned away by the defected Tory MP Anna Soubry who is also standing.

Yorkshire & Humber

This place looks like a real kick in the nuts for Labour. I don’t know it well; of the regions thus far discussed, it’s probably my least-well-known. I’ve only really been to Sheffield. There’s the wildcard of the Yorkshire Party running in a few places, and they seem likelier to cost Labour votes than the Tories (like the Greens, and Plaid Cymru, and the SNP) so this could be Labour’s single worst regional showing – but then, they’ve got a lot of seats here to lose. A Tory landslide would see them outdo Labour across the region, and (if the Brexit vote is everything) it’s possible.

  1. Conservatives GAIN Great Grimsby from Labour
  2. Conservatives GAIN Scunthorpe from Labour
  3. Conservatives GAIN Don Valley from Labour
  4. Conservatives GAIN Penistone and Stockbridge from Labour
  5. Conservatives GAIN Rother Valley from Labour
  6. Lib-Dems GAIN Sheffield Hallam from Labour
  7. Conservatives GAIN Keighley from Labour
  8. Labour GAIN Calder Valley from Conservatives
  9. Conservatives GAIN Colne Valley from Labour
  10. Lib-Dems GAIN Leeds North West from Labour
  11. Labour GAIN Pudsey from Conservatives
  12. Conservatives GAIN Wakefield from Labour

It’s a Blue Plague / Yellow Surge double-whammy! Well, number 6 is Nick Clegg’s old seat, which was unexpectedly won by a tragically unprepared, and probably completely unsuitable, Labour candidate who had a shit time of it and did virtually nothing to represent his constituency. Bad news all round and hard to see them holding that one. The couple of gains would be accompanied by a few more holds, but for the likelihood that the Brexit Party might actually do its job here and offer Brexit-keen former Labour voters a protest vote that will let the Tories in. A lot of this election will hinge on whether that tactic really works. I think it will here, but not everywhere.

Northwest England

Losses likely for Labour, but unlikely to lose them the lead.

The Labour squeeze here could be a lot bigger than I predict; but then again, a lot of the remain areas (of which there actually are some!) are already in Labour hands; and there isn’t quite the glut of leave-centric Labour-held seats that look set to turn. The independent is the new speaker, by the by.

  1. Conservatives GAIN Crewe and Nantwich from Labour
  2. Conservatives GAIN Weaver Vale from Labour
  3. Conservatives GAIN Barrow and Furness from Labour
  4. Labour GAIN Altrincham and Sale West from Conservatives
  5. Conservatives GAIN Bury North from Labour
  6. Conservatives GAIN Bury South from Labour
  7. Conservatives GAIN Blackpool South from Labour
  8. Independent GAINs Chorley from Labour

There’s a lot here Labour could technically gain, but it doesn’t seem like a likely time for it to happen. There’s a lot more the Tories could gain, and I hope Labour have been campaigning well…

Northeast England

Brexit was effectively announced in Sunderland on June 23rd, 2016: will it be ratified there?

Blue plague likely. Virulence unknown. Not much here for Labour to win and nothing they did even in 1997. Much talk of the “red wall” crumbling. I hope it won’t, but I suspect it might. My own (hopeful) consolation is that I doubt Richard Tice, the great angry hope of the Brexit Party, will be elected by the monkey-hangers (or, Hartlepudlians, if you prefer). We’ll see…

  1. Conservatives GAIN Bishop Auckland from Labour
  2. Conservatives GAIN Darlington from Labour
  3. Conservatives GAIN North West Durham from Labour
  4. Conservatives GAIN Stockton South from Labour

Scotland

The SNP are set for a fightback, but by how much, and at whose expense?

The election could be won or lost in Scotland. If the Tories retain enough of their seats here, a majority is likely. If they gain seats, it’s surely a landslide. The exchange of seats between the SNP and Labour (or the Lib-Dems) is likelier to affect the date of a second independence referendum than anything else, since all three parties are at least open to a remain option in a second referendum. Labour may well lose seats, but I think their manifesto could tempt back some of their (only recently lost) former majority of voters in Scotland. Then again, the Scots might be rightly sick of British politics by now, and might just tell all the unionist parties to sling it.

  1. SNP GAIN Aberdeen South from Conservatives
  2. SNP GAIN Gordon from Conservatives
  3. SNP GAIN Angus from Conservatives
  4. SNP GAIN Ochil and South Perthshire from Conservatives
  5. SNP GAIN Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock from Conservatives
  6. SNP GAIN East Dunbartonshire from Lib-Dems
  7. SNP GAIN East Renfrewshire from Conservatives
  8. Lib-Dems GAIN North East Fife from SNP
  9. Labour GAIN Glasgow Soth West from SNP
  10. SNP GAIN Moray from Conservatives
  11. Labour GAIN Airdrie and Shotts from SNP
  12. Labour GAIN Motherwell and Wishaw from SNP
  13. SNP GAIN Orkney and Shetland from Lib-Dems
  14. Labour GAIN Na h-Eileanan an Iar from SNP
  15. SNP GAIN Rutherglen and Hamilton West from Labour
  16. SNP GAIN Stirling from Conservatives

If this many seats change hands in Scotland, someone should give me a medal. It seems crazily unlikely, but there are so many marginals, that a lot of action on the night is inevitable. But will there be one clear trend? I think this election is too nuanced and complex for that; but maybe that’s just the kind of delusional myopia one develops after staring at Wikipedia pages of voting patterns for weeks on end. Most of this is a pro-remain, pro-indy swing. Polling has Labour father down than I do (like everywhere else) but I’ll believe that when I see it. Or hopefully not.

Some of the more outlandish predictions here are the Northern Isles going yellow. I mean light yellow. I say yellow for the Lib Dems elsewhere, but in Scotland it becomes apparent that actually, they’re orange. So, yeah: it’s been orange (or Liberal) since 1945. But I’m calling it. SNP gain. If I’m right, I’m Paul the Octopus.

Also: the Outer Hebrides going Labour. This is less crazy in a way, but also more so. It was Labour from the late ’80s to the early ’00s; but has been SNP since, and the recent polls would suggest an upsurge away from its newfound semi-marginal status. But I predict some perhaps unlikely unionist tactical voting from Tories to Labour. There’s also the issue of 1000+ Scottish Christian votes from last time now up for grabs. Now, there are a lot of different types of Christians out there. But if they’re the sort of Christians that read the Bible AND party manifestos, they’ll vote Labour. Finally, I think Jo Swinson will lose her seat, because of how much she’s been on TV and how much people will actually now know about her, and her record in government.

Northern Ireland

And finally! I’d like to go there one day, but I never have yet. I mean, Scotlandwise I’ve only been to Edinburgh, which probably doesn’t count, but I’ve never been to NI and don’t know much about it. So this is pure, uncut data divination, barely even coloured by noise reports.

  1. Sinn Fein GAIN Belfast North from DUP
  2. SDLP GAIN Belfast South from DUP
  3. SDLP GAIN Foyle from Sinn Fein
  4. UUP GAIN North Down from Independent
  5. UUP GAIN South Antrim from DUP
  6. SDLP GAIN South Down from Sinn Fein

That’s my prediction for Northern Ireland. IDK what difference it’ll make to the UK. SDLP might feasibly join a remain coalition. I don’t think UUP will join a Brexit one, and I don’t even think DUP will now, unless maybe they get another billion off the Tories. Sinn Fein quite reasonably don’t join shit because they want to join the rest of the actual country they’re in.

I mean, the above is basically absolutely guesswork so if I’ve got these right I’m buying a lottery ticket.

END RESULT

I predict a riot! No: I predict a hung parliament, with Conservatives as the largest party.

I’d like a Labour majority, but I don’t see it. The British (okay, okay, the English) are conservative by majority, by nature – no, by culture. Labour’s manifesto (albeit possibly a bit bloated, possibly a bit scattered) is, for me, the most inspirational political statement of intent of my lifetime. And that says far more about the others than it does about this. I voted green in 2015 because of the austerity-lite and the racist mug. Maybe I was the mug. Maybe we all are. Maybe I’d vote Plaid Cymru if I believed a more co-operative, internationalist, egalitarian world was better attainable that way. But TBH I think it’s just as likely I’d be chucked out the country by an anti-English militia. There are of course valid reasons to support Conservatism or Liberalism and valid reasons to favour Democratic Socialism – at least, I think they are. I’ve always (or I think I have) favoured the latter, if I’ve really thought about it. But I also feel like all the Conservatives I either instinctively like or respect based on what I’ve seen them say have jumped or been shoved. I don’t think Boris Johnson would be a good PM and nor do I think he’s a good man. But I know a lot of people think the same, for different reasons, about Jeremy Corbyn.

I think a lot of people, including a lot of Tory remain-voters, will be voting to “get Brexit done” as much as they are voting for the Conservatives’ manifesto, or against Labour’s manifesto, or against Corbyn, or against antisemitism, or whatever. I am voting against getting Brexit done, because I don’t think Brexit will ever be got done, and I don’t think that’s something to aspire to anyway. But I’m also voting for Labour, for the manifesto, and yes, even for Corbyn, and, in my view at least, against antisemitism, and for a more open, tolerant, equal, and therefore happy society. I’m really voting (or really believe myself to be voting) for a very gradual move toward a way of living that is less focused on wealth extraction and exploitation of people and the environment, toward something more closely resembling mutual dignity.

Personally, it’ll be the easiest vote I’ve ever made; and I say that with a recognition that there is relatively little at stake for me, as I have a nice life, and do not feel personally imminently threatened by much more than some extra taxes, or paperwork. I know therefore that many people do not vote like I do, even if they vote the same way. So, yes, I have absolutely no regrets or doubts about my choice to try to effect a minor change, from Tory to Labour, in an obscure marginal seat in a sparsely populated corner of Wales. Although I reserve the right to change my mind about all this at a later date if or when I realise I’m completely wrong. I’ve been wrong before, so it’ll probably happen again at some point.

Mind you, given the polls, and the fact that even my possibly overly optimistic projections predict absolutely no closure to the questions that raised this election, I might not enjoy the luxury of being able to reflect upon my decision as if it was of any significance whatsoever; or worse yet, the polls might be right, I will not get what I want, so I will go on thinking I was right even if I wasn’t.

A Velky, Landskeria, Mynahclogddu, December 8th, 2019

Cwmcerwyn, Mynachlogddu

Spelling variants: Coomkerwyn, Cwm Carun, Cwmcerwn, Cwm Cerwyn, Cwmcerwn, Kombe Kerwn, Komberwin

Approximate English translations: Tub/Tun Valley

Ruins at Cwmcerwyn, September 2019. Foel Cwmcerwyn is just to the left of the tree.

I’ve written a bit about Cwmcerwyn before in relation to the painted rock that was the catalyst for this project. Cwmcerwyn was a prominent farmhouse on the eastern slopes of Pembrokeshire’s highest peak; often called Preseli Top in the past, nowadays always called Foel Cwmcerwyn. The word “foel” is mutated from “moel” meaning “bald” but is also a common word in these parts for a bare or treeless summit (see also: Foel Drygarn, Foel Feddau, Foel Dyrch). Cerwyn has numerous related meanings, and while George Owen commented that the presence of many whiskey-distilling Irish folk in the valley in the late 16th century might have rendered the meaning of “cerwyn” as a whiskey-still appropriate, it seems likelier that the bowl- or tub-like shape of the valley was the inspiration for its name; though whether the valley or the farmhouse had the name first, we will likely never know.

Cwmcerwyn on the 1819 OS map on the east bank of Afon Wern, south of Foel Fedw (Feddau). Trefrap (right) survives as Cwm Garw.

This house has more history (at least more available history) than most in the area. There follows some detail from a book I took notes from in the county library. I was too stupid to take down the name of the book, but it was something like “Old Houses of Pembrokeshire”, and listed them by parish; in Mynachlogddu were Cwmcerwyn, Dyffryn Ffilbro, Pentre/Pant Ithel and Dol[a]emaen. Clynsaithman (Glynsaithmaen), Cwmcerwyn’s neighbour across Afon Wern in Llangolman parish, was also listed. I’ll note the name and author next time I’m in Haverfordwest.

Cwmcerwyn, was, according to the book, “Marked on Rees’s 14th century map” of the area, and mentioned in deeds of 1344 in relation to its ownership by St Dogmael’s Abbey. It was leased to David ap Rhys ap Owen on 12 October 1535, and later (along with most of the land in the area) assigned to John Bradshaw and his heirs “at an annual rent of 10 shillings”. Toward the end of the 17th century, the farmhouse becomes the home of Griffith Morris, “gentleman” son of Griffith Morris of Clynsaethmaen. He was “a baptist and a member of Rhydwilym chapel” located some way away, just outside the southern border of Llangolman parish. (It would be a while yet before Bethel chapel was built in Mynachlogddu). In 1693 Griffith, son of Griffith, married Elizabeth, daughter of Griffith Howel of Rushacre, Narberth. After this, they went to live in Cwmcerwyn. He died between 1732 and 1734. His son (of the same name) livd at “Cwmkerwyn Isha”. No house of this name survived to the 19th century records I’ve read; but perhaps it was an earlier name for one of the other houses in the valley: Cwmgarw, Bwlch Giten, Waun Clun Coch, Iethen or Tynewydd.

Cwmcerwyn in 1844.

In 1786 “James Bowen Esq” owned “Cwm Carun” with one John Griffith as his tenant. On 5 April 1817, Daniel Owen of Cwmcerwyn was baptized, and on 30 January 1833 he was ordained Baptist minister of Pope Hill, South of Haverfordwest. Cwmcerwyn later became part of the Cwmgloyn estate (I don’t know the exact dates for this period). In 1909 it was described as a farm of 296 acres, rented by Morris Thomas, and was up for sale.

The above skips forward beyond where my non-cartographical records normally begin (i.e. 1841, with the first census), so I’ll now rewind back to that first rich snapshot of life in the northwest corner of Mynachlogddu parish. In 1841, James Llwelin, 40, was farming at “Cwmcerwn” with his wife Mary, 40, daughters Ann (16) Elizabeth (8) and Sara (4), and sons John (14) Thomas (12) and William (1). James was not there ten years later, however. In 1844 (at the time of the tithe maps) he was listed as the occupier of the land, with Morris Morris, Griffith Morris and Morris
Williams as joint owners. The account in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’ mentions an eldest son called Charles, a sailor, who died in 1843 at 21 years old and was buried in the grounds of Capel Bethel.

But James Llewhellin (spelled slightly differently from the above) wrote his last will and testament on 22 May, 1848, aged 47:

“…to my beloved wife Mary Llewhellin [I give] all that I do now possess as long as she do continue a widow, but should she again marry, my aforesaid is to give to each of my seven children the sum of twelve pounds on or before her second marriage. … my wife and my son Thomas Llewhellin to be joint executors.”

The witnesses to this were David Thomas of Llangolman and Daniel Phillip of (the neighbouring farmhouse) Cwmgarw. James Llewhellin died later that year. In 1849, Anne Llewhellyn married either a John Thomas or a Thomas Jones – but can’t be traced in the region thereafter.

One of many ash trees now growing on the site.

By 1851 Mary Llewhellin (born in Camrose, we learn) is “widow”, “farmer” and “head” of the house at Cwmcerwyn. Her remaining children are John (23), Thomas (21) and Elizabeth (16), all born in “Notton” (probably Nolton?); Sarah (13), born in Roch; William (11), born in Henry’s Moat (they gradually seen to be getting nearer!) and finally Frances (8), born in “Monachlogddu”. There’s also a William Owen, 15 living with them; a “farm servant” originally from Llanglydwen.

It’s noted in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’ that English was probably the “language of the hearth” for the Llewellyns, as evidenced by James having been made a church warden within two years of moving to Cwmcerwyn. The majority of mostly Welsh-speaking Mynachlogddu had by now swapped the Anglican St Dogmael’s church for the “ty-cwrdd” Baptist meeting house at Bethel. The family were also, unusually for the time and place, literate, being able to sign their names on marriage certificates.

By 1861 Elizabeth is gone, and, if married, untraceable in the wider area (to 10 miles). Mary is a (still-not-remarried) farmer of 220 acres, employing two boys. Sarah, William and Frances are still living at Cwmcerwyn too, and three servants are also listed: John Edward (19, from Mynachlogddu), Dan Evans (16, from Henry’s Moat) and Anne Jones (a “house maid”, 14, from Morvil).

Mary and James’s eldest son, John Llewhellyn (now 33), is a farmer of 33 acres at Plasdwbl (Mynachlogddu), employing one labourer and one boy, and he’s married to Sarah (27, from Llangolman) and also providing a roof for Caleb Edwards of Llanglydwen, one of his servants, who is listed as a “cartman”. Their next eldest son Thomas (32) is a little (but not much) farther afield at Pengraig in Cilymaenllwyd, Carmarthenshire. He’s a farmer of 80 acres, married to Mary (37, from Mynachlogddu) with three children, Anne (7), Rachel (4) and James (2, named after his grandfather?), and a “stepson”, presumably Mary’s child, John Davis (10). They have two male servants, Caleb Edward (21) and Daniel Thomas (14), and one dairy maid, Sarah Jinkins (18). John Davis was born in Mynachlogddu, so one would suppose his place and situation of birth might be easily traceable on the previous census; but one would suppose wrong, in this case, it turns out. There’s a Mary David (30) at “Blue Page”* in Mynachlogddu, who is married, but whose husband isn’t in the house; indeed, she’s living with her mother-in-law and three of the latter’s grandchildren (presumably but not necessarily these are her children). But (in addition to the 2-3 year discrepancy in her age, which does sometimes happen in censuses) this Mary was born in Llangolman, whereas Thomas’s wife Mary is listed as born in Mynachlogddu.

A barn or a secondary domestic building at Cwmcerwyn?

By 1871, William (31) is head of the house at Cwmcerwyn. His mother (now 70) is still there, and never took another husband. Perhaps her late husband’s stipulation as to the massive payout to the children was enough to put her off; or perhaps she never met another suitable man. Either way, at first glance that legal stipulation might have seemed to be made in order to dissuade her from remarrying, but it’s as likely (perhaps much more likely) to have been made to dissuade a man of no means from marrying Mary for her money, and leaving the children with no inheritence. So, anyway: William, the third eldest son, becomes the new farmer at the house. His wife Mariah (of Meline parish) is 24, and they already have three sons: James (3, named after his grandfather), Evan (2), and John (1), and according to an account by one of their descendents in the local history book ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’, they were to have ten. There are also two servants living with them: David Bowen (18), and John Williams (16).

Sarah Llewhellin has, I think, married John John of “Lanisaf” (or Llainisaf?) in the same parish, and become Sarah John. If this is indeed her, she has two children: Thomas (1), and William (0). Frances (now 28) seems to have become Frances Morgans of Llanllogin Llanycefn. If this is indeed her (and the birthplaces match up), she has married Edward Morgans (25, farmer and butcher), and has three children: Margaret (4), Mary (1), and James Llewelyn (5); the latter presumably arrived before she met (or married?) her new husband. He is listed as “son” to the “head”, but whatever his origin, he is the third known namesake of James Llewhelyn among his grandchildren.

Cwmcerwyn and its neighbours in 1888.

By 1881 William (now 41) is a farmer of 280 acres. Mariah, his wife, has by now birthed five more children: Mary (9), Thomas (7), Catherine (5), William (3) and Benjamin (1). James (13) and John (11) are still there too. Evan is not, and neither is William’s mother; the latter at least we can be pretty sure is now dead. In addition to the eight resident family members, there are two farm servants (“indoor”): David Davies (26) and Job Owen (17); and two “general” servants: Mary and Sarah Davies, both 16.

The 1891 census returns Evan to the household (maybe he was in a cupboard last time, or something). The other present children are Catherine (15), William (13), Thomas (12), Benjamin (11), Ann (9) and David Devonald (2). Sarah Griffiths (18) is the sole resident servant. James Llewellyn (now 23) has set himself up as a farmer at Portispant in Llangolman (with just one dairy maid, Mary Griffiths), and his younger brother John is at Wernddu in Meline, with a wife (Mary, 24), a baby daughter called Mary L, two servants (David Nicholas, 18, and Margaretta Thomas, 15) and a nurse, Mary Havard, 53.

Yvonne Evans, a descendant of the Llewellyns writing in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’, informs us that William and Mariah moved to Newton near Rudbaxton (central Pembrokeshire) in 1894. And that (quoting the English translation!) “their eldest son, James, emigrated to the United States … [and] Evan went to Australia.” Other children of theirs went to America (and returned), moved to Northampton, moved to Trefdraeth (Newport, Pembs). This was at the time when the Parish was no longer able to sustain the number of inhabitants it had swelled to; and it has never reach the heights of population it enjoyed (or suffered) then to the present day.

Cwmcerwyn: a few little squares on the OS map.

In 1901, another Mynachlogddu family has moved in: David Harries (possibly originally from Capelbach, by Cwmgarw) is now the head of Cwmcerwyn, alongside his wife Anne. They have three children: Daniel (5), Lizzie (2), Morris (5 months), and a servant (16) called William Phillips. By the last (currently available) census in 1911, The Harrieses are still resident, with their three children and two new ones: Martha Ann (8), and William Albert (5). Since siblings Martha and Albert are said by Yvonne to have been the farmhouse’s final residents in the 1930s, I assume these were the latter two.

Cwmcerwyn is rare, among these lost houses, in having had only two families resident in the period of increased and freely available historical resources. (I.e. 1841-1911.) It is rarer still in having records (scant, but records nonetheless) that go back at least half a century beyond this. Had it survived to the modern day it would be a listed building; but as it is, it’s a ruin.

It’s a home for trees now.

Cwmcerwyn is not on a public footpath. When I asked for permission from the farmers who now own the land to visit the ruins, they told me (having said I could go up there) “there’s nothing there now though”. Had they known that I’d recently visited the “remains” of Clawdd Ddu and Llech, they’d have been able to appreciate that the ruins of Cwmcerwyn would be alike to Machu Picchu in my eyes! Not only are the firm footings of several buildings still visible among the mature trees and scattered farm equipment, but the atmosphere of the place remains distinctly homely: the lane, which crosses over several fords, scattered on either side with fallen megaliths; the half-collapsed footbridge over Afon Wern; the stone walls, the nuggets of quartz; the patchwork of surrounding fields, carved out of the gorse and heather on the marshy, sloping mountainside; and the majestic presence of Foel Cwmcerwyn and Foel Feddau towering over it all. It’s a place of great beauty, and no small amount of sadness for those who still have a fondness for witnessing humankind’s often sympathetic historical relationship with the natural world.

There’s a poem in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’, written by Martha Harries, one of the last residents of Cwmcerwyn. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, for fear of playing fast and loose with copyright; but the last stanza speaks of both the uniquely tragic fate of Cwmcerwyn, and, in the final line at least, the sadness that is common to all of these lost homes:

“Awyrenna gyda’u bomiau,
Milwyr hefyd gyda hwy,
Amser rhyfel a’r ymarfer,
Nid yw’r cartref yno mwy.”

from ‘Cwm Cerwyn’ by Martha Ann Harries

Rough “poetic” (as opposed to literal) translation:

Bombers flew in with explosives,
A time of manoeuvres, and war,
And soldiers following orders,
Now no home’s there anymore.

A Velky, around midnight on the first morning of October 2019.

A photograph of the farmhouse before it was bombed by Allied planes in World War Two.

* Blue Page, like the similarly named Orange Page, is a sometimes-mentioned but as-yet-not-identified Mynachlogddu mystery cottage, whose whereabouts I hope to get on to at a later date in this project. One or the other I suppose to have been an alternative name for “Gors Fach” on the common.

Iet-Y-Llech, Llech, Llechisaf, & Byhwp, Mynachlogddu

Spelling variants: Ietllech / Iet Llech / Yetllech / Yet Llech; Llech Isaf / Llechisaf / Llech Isha / Llechisha; By Hwp / By Hoop / Byhoop

Approximate English translations: Gate-[to]-the-Cromlech, Cromlech, Lower Cromlech, [I have no idea whatsoever].

Llech y Gwyddon: Mynachlogddu’s only Cromlech, I think. Collapsed beneath a fence.

“Llech” literally means “slate”, but can also in certain contexts denote a slab of stone or a boulder. In these house names it can be safely assumed to refer in shorthand to the adjacent cromlech, Llech-Y-Gwyddon. Let’s divert briefly into etymology.

Llech circled(?) on the 1818 OS map. “Lleth[e]r” is, confusingly the farm to the immediate left.

“Llech” forms the latter part of the word “crom[-]lech” which word dates back at the very least to the 1500s and is the common Welsh word for a megalithic chambered tomb with a capstone; “crom” meaning bowed or arched. In English, “cromlech” was the go-to word in past centuries, but nowadays “dolmen” is perhaps more frequently used. Dolmen is thought to be from Breton (the “dol part” denoting a table or a flat board); but etymologists like to argue about this, and the Irish “dolmain” is also very close. Either way, the “men” or “main” part of the word must surely mean “stone” and is also present in the words menhir/maenhir, meaning “longstone” (literally, “stonelong” due to grammatical differences between Welsh and English). Compare also the name of the ancient Mynachlogddu farmhouse “Dolaumaen” which means “stone meadows” or “meadows of stone” and supposedly refers to a pair of standing stones on its land; this could as easily once have been “dolmaen” and referred to the cromlech itself, or (since it’s a bit far, and the known cromlech is closer to the ancient farm of Blaencleddau) perhaps it referred to another cromlech which is no longer there.

There are various traditions relating to cromlechs in the region, and they tend to be common across other regions where similar monuments are found. Often, they are said to be lairs or tombs for fearsome or magical creatures: wolves, hounds, witches, ogres, giantesses, heroes, or devils. The “Llech” that appears in the names of two (or possibly three) historical cottages just beyond Waun Cleddau in northeast Mynachlogddu is derived from the nearby (collapsed) burial chamber whose earliest known name is Llech y Gwyddon. A “gwyddon” can be a number of things, but is most likely an ogress or a witch: some mythical or supernatural female. As a side-note, there’s a Llech y Drybedd near Moylgrove, which is an intact three-legged Cromlech, and there’s a Llech y Lladron (robbers’ rock) in Brecon. Better cultural comparisons for this might be the “Tomba dei Giganti” of Sardinia, or the nearby Gwal-y-Filiast, meaning “Lair of the greyhound bitch”.

This modern OS map shows Llech-Y-Gwyddon (the yellow spot) as well as the likely sites of Iet-Y-Llech (north circle) and Llech (south). Llechisaf might have been on the eastern side of the bridleway, opposite Iet-Y-Llech? Note three additional old homesteads on Waun Cleddau. These were, from left to right, Pwll-Y-Crychydd (Heron’s Pool), Pant-Y-Glocsen (Clog Hollow) and Pantau Duon (Black Hollows).

While today Mynachlogddu’s sole known cromlech invites little attention, for centuries past it would have been an important landmark, as well as a focal point for stories and superstitions. The 1888 OS map indicates that Iet-Y-Llech was situated on the opposite side of the field to the ruined cromlech, so we can deduce (or, frankly, guess) that “Llech” was on the plot to the south. The 1819 map suggests that Llech predated Iet, and this would explain the name of the latter. While “Iet” can sometimes denote a toll-gate, in this case it may well have simply meant that the newer of the two houses was situated precisely by the gate to the field where the cromlech lay. The sole 1841 census entry for a house called “Llech Isha” (Lower Llech) complicates matters slightly; but if this house fell out of use 170+ years ago, we could reasonably expect to see even less evidence of it on our maps than the other two. It might have been in the small plot opposite Iet-y-Llech, but it’s hard to say.

2 cottages recorded on the 1850 tithe map: both “occupied” by Daniel Griffiths, Blaencleddau.

The geographical relationship between “Uchaf” and “Isaf” farms isn’t wholly reliably either north-to-south or uphill-to-downhill. Perhaps it’s more usually that the “isaf” or “isha” is subservient to or of less importance than the “uchaf” or “ucha”? In 1841 we have no “Llech Uchaf” but can assume that “Llech” itself is the one that “Llech Isha” is “isha” to. Had it lasted longer, perhaps “Llech” would have been referred to in later life as “Llech Ucha”. It’s closer to the parent farm of Blaencleddau, but no farther uphill, nor farther north; in fact, the opposite in both cases.

There is a will drawn up for a widow called Martha Morris who lived at Llech, dating to 1828, digitized in the National Library of Wales archive. In it she says:

“My two sons James and David shall retain all the goods and moneys they owe me, as their own property for ever … after paying all my legal and funeral expenses, [my money is] to be divided into four equal shares … one fourth … to my daughter Ann Morris… [the rest to my other four children: Stephen, Martha, Mary, and Rachel].”

None of these children are traceable in the parish from the start-date of the censuses (1841), so we can assume none of them took over her tenancy.

And so, to the censuses. The first year is often the most difficult, and 1841 is no exception here. David John, 60, a mason, is living in “Yetllech” with Ann John, 15, who may well have been his daughter; but no such detail is forthcoming from the first census. Ann Rees, also 60, and a woman of independent means, is living in Llech with (daughters?) Sarah (30) and Elizabeth (20) Rees. The former, but not the latter, is listed as a servant. The complicating factor is the existence of the aforementioned “Llech Isha”, never to be seen again, in which lives James Thomas, 61, an agricultural labourer (presumably at Blaencleddau) with wife Sarah (40), and and children David (7) and Sarah (3). By 1851 this family (minus David) are living in “Byhoop” and we learn, due to the added detail of the ’51 census, that David senior was born in Ceredigion. Since I have no more idea where Byhoop is or was than where Llech Isha is or was (less even) we could perhaps assume it’s the same cottage, renamed? E T Lewis mentions a “By Hwp” as one of the many Mynachlogddu mystery cottages, but offers no explanation for the words (which make no sense to me in English or Welsh) nor clues as to the location.

The supposed former site of Llech cottage, as it appeared on a September morning in 2019.

As for Llech and Iet in ’51: “Yetllech” is now home to Sophia Evans, an agricultural labourer’s wife, and her children Thomas (3) and Mary (0). Sophia’s husband is oddly not present; perhaps living onsite at the farm he’s working at? (i.e. not Blaencleddau; somewhere farther?) It’s an unusual situation, and one that led me down a merry path of false impressions, whereby I became briefly convinced that this Sophia Evans was the same Sophia Evans listed in Llanboidy in ’41, and later in ’71 and ’81, and that she’d run away from home to be with someone who then ran away from her. Given that we’re working with such a small amount of information it can be all too tempting to fill in the gaps with the imagination; or rather, to let the imagination run wild. I could have just skipped forward to ’61 for a clearer impression of the real sequence of events. But we’ll get there in a minute. Firstly, Llech in ’51 is still home to Ann Rees, “Widow of labourer”, 75, and one of her daughters, Elizabeth, now 30, who remains unmarried.

In 1861 we learn that Sophia has died, leaving her 35-year old agricultural-labourer widower William Evans in Iet-Y-Llech to care for their children Mary (10), David (8), Hana (5) and William (2). I haven’t bothered paying for access to all the legal documents, as the website I use is positively extortionate; but there is an indication that Sophia Evans was buried in 1861, some time before the census was taken. Incidentally, there is at the same time a 13-year-old boy called Thomas Evans (born in Mynachlogddu) working as a servant in Penlan, Whitechurch, Ceredigion, and I suspect he was their eldest, and probably hadn’t been out the house long. Llech is now home to Morris Williams, 31, agricultural labourer, born in the parish, and Margaret Williams, 31, born in neighbouring Llanfyrnach, and their children John (3) and Ann (1). None of these are traceable on any other census.

Iet-Y-Llech (top); Llech might be to the south. Llech Isha might be to the right? OS 1888.

By 1871 William Beynon, farm labourer, 64 is at Iet-Y-Llech with his wife Mary (60) who is also a labourer. Names are entered for Llech for the last time (indeed, it doesn’t appear on the 1888 OS map, so I’ve had to guess its location). Those names are as follows. William Stephen, 35, Carpenter, born in Llanfyrnach. Martha Stephen, 33, his wife, from Capel Castellan. Anne, 9, scholar; James, 6, scholar; Margaret, 4; Martha and Mary, both 2. All of the children were born in the parish, and quite probably in the cottage itself. the family were in “Iet Fronlas” near Foel Drygarn in ’61 (i.e. at the last census) where they had an infant son called David who must have died in the interim, and also la 10-year old called Mary Stephen who one would presume to be their daughter, but for the fact that she is listed as “nurse” which apparently indicates she was someone else’s child who they were raising, probably for a fee. William Stephen is unusually easy to trace on the censuses, so we know he was from a big family, and that his father David Stephen (probably the namesake of his ill-fated first son) taught him his trade, alongside an older brother called John. We also know that by 1881 he is a “master carpenter” living in Castellan with wife Martha, and children Phoebe (9), Hannah (7), Rachel (3) and David (a new one, 1). The lack of Margaret, Martha or Mary might immediately seem ominous, but we cannot know for sure if they were dead, working away or simply living with someone else. Though the first two are untraceable in the vicinity (certainly up to 20 miles), Mary, it transpires, has gone to live with her grandparents David and Margaret in Llanfyrnach, and is now a twelve-year-old “scholar”.

That last paragraph was long. Do you still remember the Beynons? Maybe not. But they’re still at Iet-Y-Llech in 1881. She’s Mary, 70, and he’s William, 80, and after many years as a labourer he is now a farmer of 10 acres, which feels like a massive achievement. They’re both gone by 1891, but their daughter Ann, 37, single, a farmer, is the sole resident. Ann was 7 in ’61 (nice when the maths works out!) and living with her parents in Llwyn Piod on the other side of the parish. (At that time a 96-year old alms woman called Lettice Michael was boarding with them. We can safely assume she is dead by this point.) 20 years ago, Ann was a general servant to a farmer in Blaen Nevern, Castellan; 10 years ago Ann was a maid at Caermeini Isaf. However much she enjoyed her time at Iet-Y-Llech, the census does not reveal; but we do know that by 1911, Annie (as she’s now known) is a 57-year-old servant to an 82-year-old widower called Howell Rees at a place called Neuadd in Blaenffos.

We can assume unless evidence to the contrary is discovered that the two (or three) cottages around the collapsed cromlech on the eastern side of the Crymych road in northeast Mynachlogddu fell into ruin at this point. Today, several little rectangles of dry stone wall remain, with twisted trees sprouting from each. Sheep, horses, and cattle graze peacefully in the marshy surrounding fields and barely a trace of human life is noticeable but for the distant buzz of a tractor or whirr of a passing car.

A Velky, September, 2019.

The former location of Iet-Y-Llech. A window might afford one a view of the ruined cromlech.

Clawdd-Du & Penbanc, Mynachlogddu

Spelling variants: Clawdd Du / Clawdu; Pen Banc / Pen Bank / Penbank

Approximate English translations: Black-Hedge & Banktop

The alleged site of Clawdd-Du: a wall remains, and piles of stones. Pictured March 2019.

I first came across Clawdd-du, like many of the forgotten homes of the parish, on the 1888 OS map on the wonderful National Library of Scotland website.

1888: Clawdd-Du is there, but not Penbanc.

The site is at the north central edge of the parish, in the shadow of Carn Menyn; on the border of the marshy common land, to the north, and the enclosed fields associated with Caermeini Isaf and Tycwta, to the south. A branch of Afon Tewgyll forms this border, and the brook babbles westward, downhill right by the gate that takes hikers up to see the famous Preseli bluestones.

1819: neither Clawdd-Du nor Penbanc visible.

Unlike with many of the older houses in the parish, we can be pretty sure of the dates both before and after the existence of Clawdd-Du: it does not appear to be marked on the early 1819-34 OS map, and it does not feature on the 1901 census. So it doesn’t seem that Clawdd-Du lived to see its hundredth birthday.

Clawdd-Du circled; Penbanc just below?

But the history of this farmhouse is complicated somewhat by a nearby associated house called Penbanc: hence the doubled-up title of this entry. Clawdd-Du is conveniently situated immediately adjacent to the public footpath on a bridleway which was once a trans-Preseli footpath and/or droving route. The modern OS map shows two clustered little field enclosures one after the other between Carmeini Isaf and the common, so even though just one farmhouse was named on the 1888 map, I had a feeling the site just south of Clawdd-du was also once a homestead, and the censuses seem to indicate as much.

Before I trudge through the somewhat complex and busy decades accounted for by the census, it’s also worth noting the nearby Pant y Cadno farmhouse (to the southwest on the above-featured modern OS map, and on the tithe map to the right). This is also no longer in existence, though it survived for slightly longer than either of the subjects of this post. (It will get its own entry, don’t worry.)

The above tithe entry for Clawdd-du lists its parcel of land as a “Cottage & Garden” occupied by “Daniel Rees”; as is usually the case with labourer’s houses, the occupier of the farm they work on is listed here, and Mr Rees was the head of Carnmenyn/Caermeini Isaf, with one David Rees (quite possibly a relative) in occupation at nearby Tycwta. Although Penbanc (or a second labourer’s cottage) was on the censuses at this time, it does not appear on the tithe map.

So: 1841 is the first census, and “Clawdu” is home to Moris Moris and his wife Phebe (both 35) and 5 children: Daniel, Evan, Mary, William, and an as-yet-unnamed week-old baby (aaaw!). All were born in Pembrokeshire. As a quick side-note, there is a Catherine Moris, 20, living at Pant y Cadno with Philip and Catherine Thomas and their young son Caleb. She is listed as “independent”, indicating that she looked after herself financially. She might have been a relative of the Clawdd-Du Morises; it’s even mathematically possible (though unlikely) she was a very early child. But I don’t know.

By 1851 Moris Moris is dead and Phebe Morris has an extra R in her surname (but no O in her given name). She’s also aged 15 years in the past 10; but this does sometimes happen on censuses. She is a “pauper”. Her adult son Thomas Morris, 26, is living with her, and is also listed as a widow (?) and an agricultural labourer. The only other remaining children are William Morris (with a slight discrepancy in his age, but not enough to prevent him being the same person) and Morris Morris, 9; possibly the unnamed week-old baby from 1841, possibly a later child.

The confusion arises from the fact that the Morrises are now living in “Penbank”, and that “Clawdu” is occupied by a 30-year-old agricultural labourer from Capel Castellan called John Lewis, and his family: wife Mary (35), daughters Hannah (9) and Mary (3), son David (6), and finally Sarah Ludwig, Mary’s 78-year-old mother who is a “pauper”.

That probably doesn’t sound too confusing? Well, thanks to whoever collected the census details in 1861, it gets a little harder to follow; because this time we have a Clawdu 1 and a Clawdu 2, but no Penbanc. Clawdu 1 (possibly Penbanc?) is still(?) home to Phebe Morris. She lives with just one other person: Morris Morris: but a Morris Morris who is 10 (not 19 or 20) and is listed as her grandson, not her son. She had a fair few children, so it’s not unlikely one of them named a child after their dad and that the child’s grandmother was for one reason or another tasked with his upbringing. We don’t see any Morris Morrises again in Mynachlogddu, so this is the last time we see this chap. As for Phebe’s other kids… they’re pretty hard to trace too (given that I’m not spending hours and hours on each individual, that is). In 1851 there was a Mynachlogddu-born Mary Morris working as a housemaid to Elizabeth Davies, an 87 year old farmer in Pantebach, Llanfyrnach. This might have been one of Phebe’s. Meanwhile back in 1861 there’s an unmarried carter in Clynmain, Whitechurch, Ceredigion (not Pembrokeshire) called William Morris. And there’s a Dan Morris (32) who’s head of a farm called Pantyryn, in nearby Llanfyrnach. But none of them are in Clawdu 1.

And neither are they in Clawdu 2, which is still home to the Lewises: John (41), labourer, wife Mary (45), daughter Mary (13), sons William (9) and Thomas (6). So they had at least 5 children born in at least 4 different places, and are thus pretty difficult to follow around; but fortunately for me, I’m interested in the houses primarily, and only the people secondarily.

So I can just skip forward to 1871 when Phebe Morris is still living in Penbanc (or living in Penbanc again, after it was briefly renamed Clawdu 1). She’s a 69-year-old widow living up a rather large hill on her own. At least it’s a nice hill. Dan Morris and William Morris are both heads of houses in the wider area (or at least people with the same name and approximate birth years to them are) but it’s hard to tell how many of her family are still in the area; certainly none of them are under her roof. Her neighbours have changed too. Clawdu is now home to 56-year-old Mary Thomas, a farmer (note: not a labourer) of 10 acres, and her 11-year-old “scholar” nephew, John. I hope they got on. Mary and Phebe, I mean; but I can happily extend the sentiment to everyone in the locality out of sheer goodwill.

By 1881, Penbanc was unoccupied and Phebe, the locality’s longest-serving (known) resident, was finally dead or fled. Clawdd Du (spelled like that for the first time) was now home to Caleb John and family, and Mary Thomas had come down the mountain to Penybont (in what is now the “village” of Mynachlogddu) to retire.

Now, Caleb has an interesting trajectory. Born high up on the western slopes of Talfyydd in Bwlch Giten into the big family of Thomas and Elizabeth John, by 1861 they were all barely half a mile south in PentryIthel (Pantithel); by 1871 they’d moved to Tycwta in East Central Mynachlogddu (yes, that’s a well-used term, what of it?) and only two sons remained in the house. Caleb took a wife (Martha, 30 in 1881) up to Clawdd-Du and they had a 3-month old daughter called Elizabeth at the time of their first census as a family. But this was not to be a new chapter in Clawdd-Du’s history: oh, no; merely a footnote. By 1891 they’d moved to the slopes of Foel Dyrch at Bwlch Stop (nowadays called Dolau Isaf and/or the Preseli Mohair Centre, I think) and they had an additional son. By 1901 they’d moved back to the Crymych road to live in Glanrhyd, and they were still there in 1911. So Caleb John lived in just about every bit of Mynachlogddu in his life, except the bit I live in. (I won’t take it personally).

In 1891 Clawdd-Du is occupied by John and Mary Hughes. He’s a 75-year-old farmer and butcher from Clydey. She’s 49 and also a butcher, but from Castellan (now part of Boncath I think). By 1901 the couple had shifted a mile(ish) east to Carngoy and Clawdd-Du, alas, is no longer listed as occupied on the census.

So that’s that. in 120-ish years the sites of these houses have been reduced to almost nothing by way of visible traces of human habitation. I’m not even sure I’ve got them the right way around, but if we can rely on the 1888 OS map, then we can probably assume the place to the south was Penbanc; but it’s also possible it was merely a shed or sheepfold, and that the two cottages adjoined each other on the border of the common. I suspect further detail on these two will be hard to come by, but the site is easily accessible, and the imagination can fill in at least some of the gaps.

A Velky, September, 2019.

The site of Penbanc, just to the south of Clawdd-Du? Or is it the other way around?

Danperci, Mynachlogddu

The location of Dan Perci, as it appeared in September, 2018

Spelling variants: Danparkie / Dan Perci / Dan Perkey / Danperkie / Dan Perky / Tan Parke

English approximate translation: Under Field

Dan Perci present but unnamed, 1819-34 OS map

Dan Perci would appear according to the tithe map to have been a cottage in the southern section of Dyffryn Ffilbro’s land, southwest Mynachlogddu, just adjoining the southern section of Gors Fawr common, opposite Llandre Uchaf, where the brooks that drain the periphery of the bog flow southwest into Afon Wern at the parish’s western border.

Presumably the cottage was built by and for farm labourers working at Dyffryn Ffilbro, probably in the late 18th or early 19th century.

The cottage, illustrated on the 1850s Tithe map

Dan Perci is not named on the earliest detailed OS map (1888), and seems already to have been vacant by then. However, it’s illustrated on the Mynachlogddu tithe map as a small unnamed rectangle, considerably smaller than its neighbouring buildings, and listed as field number 143: “Cott. garden & field”, (usage: “pasture”), occupied by “David Stephen”; i.e. Stephen David, the farmer of the 97-acre Dyffryn Ffilbro farm, which itself has by now been vacant for about half a century, but which was at the time home to a large and relatively prosperous farming family.

Dan Perci’s boundaries on the 1888 OS map

There were, at the time of the tithe mapping, countless fields called “dan perci” or variations thereof in the region, so one can suppose that the cottage took its name from the field it was built in. Indeed, the larger enclosure just to the south was called “Werglodd fach dan parkey” and two to the west seem to have virtually identical names.

The censuses reveal that for the time of its known habitation Dan Perci was home to just one family.

Edward John was an agricultural labourer (also listed as a pauper in 1851) born in the neighbouring parish of Cilymaenllwyd in about 1796. His wife Ann, born in Llanfyrnach, also just next-door to Mynachlogddu, was about five years older than Edward; though both of their ages, and those of their children, are inconsistently entered across ’41, ’51 and ’61. In the first entry they have two children living with them, William (12) and Mary (7). William has left by ’51 but Mary remains until the house’s last recorded census entry in 1871. Unfortunately, I can’t find out what happened to either child after they left Dan Perci; either they died or left the locality, or (as is likelier in Mary’s case, if she got married) changed their surnames.

Dan Perci’s location on my OS map.

The field boundaries remain little changed from back then, and a glance at the latest OS map immediately betrays the existence of a former homestead by that bend in the brook.

Although it’s on private land*, I visited the site a year ago by accident while trying to make the (theoretically legal) journey from Pont Mynachlogddu to Gors Fawr via the contiguous funnel of access land. Although there was no sign of a building as such, the remaining small enclosures (pictured above) had a peaceful and welcoming feeling that contrasted with both the conventionally enclosed and relatively bare sheep pastures adjoining to the northwest, and the semi-enclosed marshy common-land on the other side of the brook.

I think this, the largest tree in the area, was an ash, and thus probably wasn’t there 150-200 years ago.

Mature trees (mostly ash and sycamore, a few oak) have sprung up from what were the walls of the garden, and there’s something resembling a whole orchard of hawthorns in one small enclosure, which looked like it was only ever visited by sheep.

A few more pictures from that walk are on my Instagram.

A Velky, September, 2019.

* Update: on closer inspection of the modern OS map, the cluster of fields comprising the former site of Danperci is actually part of the contiguous funnel of access land from Pont Mynachlogddu to Gors Fawr, and therefore legally open to the public.

07/08/2019: Cofiwch Gwmcerwyn

#COFIWCHGWMCERWYN

The stone viewed through the foliage from Pont Mynachlogddu

“Cofiwch Gwmcerwyn” or “Y Carreg Cofiwch Gwmcerwyn” (English: “The Remember Cwmcerwyn Stone”) is a painted boulder in Landskeria, Mynachlogddu, Wales.

When I first saw the stone I had the feeling that it ought to be painted. It was flat and shaped like a canvas. I had quite recently painted the Arms of Landskeria on the side of our old house in Walton East (or Old Landskeria, which we are, at the time of writing, still trying to sell) and had thus developed a taste for introducing incongruity into rural environs via the medium of mural. This rock offered a different prospect. It was visible from the road, as was the side of Tynewydd; but it was farther away, and therefore not conducive to displaying anything especially complex or detailed. 

Quite soon after moving in to the house in whose garden the stone sat, the shape of it reminded me of the Cofiwch Dryweryn wall beside the A487, one of my favourite roads. For those who don’t know, and haven’t clicked the link, “Cofiwch Dryweryn” means “Remember Tryweryn” and refers to the callous flooding of the village of Capel Celyn in the 1960s to build a reservoir to provide Liverpool and the Wirral with water for industry. Twelve houses were submerged and 48 people lost their homes, despite protests. Liverpool City Council issued a formal apology in 2005, 40 years after the reservoir opened. 

“Due to its prominent location, stark message, and history of repeated vandalism, the wall has become an unofficial landmark of Wales.”

— from Wikipedia

I have a dim memory of the wall’s existence from my time growing up in North Wales, but never saw it until I moved to Pembrokeshire and used to drive the A487 to get to and from North Wales. I have been interested in public art, protest, and nationalism for as long as I can remember; so the combination of these three factors means that I always read the (pretty regular) news stories about the graffiti being vandalized and repainted with interest. I like them. I like the vandalizing, and I like the repainting. The vandalizing shows new minds engaging with the old: the need for renewal, reinvention, and reassessment; and the repainting shows the importance of tradition, and maintenance, and graft. The opposing forces of revolution and continuity in harmony, sort of.

Last year when somebody destroyed the wall I felt sad, and quite annoyed. This was not engaging. Changing the “Cofiwch” (Remember) to “Anghofiwch” (Forget) felt like a genuine political statement; a provocation, and part of the cultural conversation, whether or not you agreed with it. Writing “Elvis” over the top was mildly amusing. Especially to someone who lives in the Preselis, where some creative etymologists claim Elvis Presley’s family originally hailed from. But destroying the wall? I wasn’t happy about that. It had echoes of the iconoclasm of the Islamic State: an attempt to erase history. And it seemed to reflect especially poorly on our culture at a time when some typically unexciting Banksy mural (each to their own, etc.) was being protected by perspex in Port Talbot, and awaiting relocation to a “street art museum” at great expense to someone or other with more money than taste.

The ensuing reproduction of the “Cofiwch Dryweryn” graffiti around Wales has been interesting to watch. But also a little worrying. I worried as a child that Welsh nationalism was a personal threat to me and my family, in that it was very anti-English. Like many people without deep roots worldwide, I was frequently told to go back to where I came from; although people weren’t always clear whether that was England or Poland. As an English child (with a Polish surname) growing up in Wales, I was subjected to almost as much anti-English animosity as I was subsequently to be subjected to anti-Welsh animosity when I moved to England at the age of 14, and the children in my new school would accept none of my claims that I was, in fact, English, just like them. Had I been aware of such a thing as a British identity, I might have been keen to embrace it: but it never really reached the rural areas.

Welsh nationalism isn’t as focally anti-English nowadays; not in the mainstream anyway. But, in my view, the reduction of the Cofiwch Dryweryn wall to a meme, being parroted up and down the land, risks dragging Wales’s political awareness back by half a century into an environment which, while not wholly alien, is unhelpful in equipping Wales to respond to its current circumstances. And it risks characterising Wales (or even caricaturing it) as primarily a victim of English dominance; when Wales (unlike the once Brythonic now wholly decymricized regions of Cumberland, Lancashire, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Strathchlyde, etc.) is remarkable more by its survival against the odds than by its subjugation, victimhood, or late-medieval-era annexation by a more militarily powerful neighbouring state. I also think the reproduction of the graffiti (and the commercialization of it on mugs, T-shirts, flags, etc.) risks focusing attention too intently on one aspect of the very recent past, and in doing so selling Wales short, culturally, politically, and historically. Tryweryn should be remembered for what it was; but it should not become the dominant national story of modern Wales. Wales is a country whose customs and traditions (not to mention its language) stretch back way beyond the reach of written records. And yet so much of what is considered “Welsh” is now limited by the political environment to the past hundred or so years: the period of national resurgence, yes; but also a period in which the Welsh culture and language has been transformed and eroded—by Anglicization in part, certainly; but moreover (and in common with many regions, nations, and peoples, worldwide) by the economic factors accompanying globalization.

To summarize, I have mixed feelings about Cofiwch Dryweryn. Despite having enjoyed the fluid nature of the monument, I now feel it should probably be protected and thus frozen in time or pickled in aspic in one “agreed” state. Interestingly, it’s claimed the very first daubing by Meic Stephens was “Cofiwch Tryweryn”—without a mutated T>D, and thus grammatically incorrect—and therefore that the original has never been wholly faithfully reproduced. The recent reproductions I’m less keen on for the reasons (or feelings) listed above; though I understand the urge to spread the word, I think that the echo rings hollow, and that the mass reproductions can never match the weight of the original, and may even serve to diminish it. With all of this in mind, I considered the options for my own canvas. I wanted to paint something which spoke to the original monument, and to the act of remembering; but which also aimed to subvert both somehow, and convey something new or at least different.

I went through many ideas over the two years I’ve lived here; and especially since scrubbing the moss off the west face of the stone last summer, in anticipation of painting it this year. One idea I gave serious consideration to was to paint “Cofiwch Lys y Fran”; Llys y Fran is our nearest reservoir. I used to live even nearer to it. That part of the Syfynwy valley was flooded in the ’60s to provide water for Milford Haven, which is also in Wales. As far as I have been able to deduce, nobody was displaced or forced to leave their home. A newspaper clipping from the time said the reservoir was to be a “sporting paradise”, and following a recent refurbishment that promise might finally be kept. Perhaps it could be argued that remembering things being done properly—the unexciting reality of the majority of governmental administration in our relatively stable and functional society—is as useful as remembering largely atypical injustices. But I thought better of this; it didn’t seem serious enough. Just a parody; and I don’t aim to deal in parodies. Furthermore, were I to parody the most sacred monument to Welsh nationalism I might incur the wrath of Welsh nationalists; which is never my intention, although it often happens anyway.

So I eventually arrived at Cofiwch Gwmcerwyn. And I resisted the urge not to mutate the C into a G; although the urge was strong from both an alliterative and a historical point of view.

Why Cwmcerwyn?

Foel Cwmcerwyn is the highest peak of the Preselis, and thus the highest point in Pembrokeshire. Most people around here know that, but relatively few seem to know that it takes its name from the valley (cwm) to its east, in Mynachlogddu parish; or that until the Second World War there was a farmhouse in that valley—one of the oldest houses in the area—which was also called Cwm Cerwyn. There is some confusion in that a house called Cwm Garw still stands in that valley—the last of the many farmhouses that once graced those slopes: Cwm Cerwyn, Tynewydd, Bwlch Giden, Waun Clyn Coch, Cnwc Rhydd…

It’s feasible that the name Cwm Cerwn referred to the western side of the valley and Cwm Garw to the east. But I once read (and I can’t remember where, but I suspect it was in some of George Owen’s writings) that Cwm Garw was an “alternative” name for the same valley, following a not-uncommon pattern in the area of multiple names for the same geographical feature: garw either meaning “rugged” or more likely being mutated from “carw” meaning stag or deer; while “cerwyn” means barrel, tub, mash-tun, or even whiskey still—but it’s also a Welsh given name, if capitalized. Certainly the name Cwm Cerwyn appears much earlier in available records than the surviving Cwm Garw, and before the latter had that name it was called Tre’r Ap (signifying an abbot’s manor or estate within the wider area which was all owned by the abbey at St Dogmaels). I believe it was also known at one point as Cwmcerwyn Isaf (Lower Cwmcerwyn). But the many old spellings of Cwm Cerwyn blur the lines between stag and still. I’ve seen it rendered as Coomkerwyn, Kome Kerwyn, Kombkaro, and Come Kerw, among numerous others. In the oldest source I’ve read first-hand (a deed from 1611) it’s spelled incongruously as Komberwin; but I’m pretty sure this is a mistake, since the more familiar-looking spelling Come Kerwyn is reported almost 100 years earlier. A book I read in Haverfordwest library claimed that the cwm was marked on a 14th century map of the area by Someone-or-other Rees, but I’ve never personally seen the map.

As to the true origin of the name, in times past there were (apparently) stags to be found in the valley, and at the time of George Owen the area was mostly populated by Irish, many of whom made their living distilling whisky and selling it door-to-door across the county. So either carw or cerwyn might make sense in either respective context; but the name seems to pre-date Owen’s era (the early 1600s) by at least a few centuries, and maybe more; so perhaps it’s impossible to know what it once meant. Since the word “cerwyn” can also denote an open tub it seems a good bet that the name began as a descriptive term for the bowl-like shape of the valley. (My own daughters called it “the bowl” before they knew its real name.)

The river that rises on the eastern slopes of Foel Cwmcerwyn and flows past our house, beside the rock that I painted, is now called Afon Wern; but as recently as 1600 it was called either Clydach Australis (the southern Clydach; to differentiate it from two identically named rivers in the Preseli region) or Kombkaro / Cwm Cerwyn. Clydach / Cladach / Clydagh is a word more often seen in Irish than Welsh, which means “stony shore” or something similar. That the valley of origin (or even the significant farm in the area) might have lent its name to the river, at least for some locals, seems entirely possible; the modern name Wern could as easily be derived from the surviving Wern farm (halfway between Cwmcerwyn and our own house) as from the word gwern, meaning either marshland or alder trees; both of which are also to be found in the area.

So, besides being synonymous with “Preseli Top” or the highest peak in the Preseli range, “Cwmcerwyn” was also a valley with a history stretching back into Arthurian mythology—the alleged site where King Arthur’s men were felled by a rampaging boar called the Twrch Trwyth, and two of his sons were either turned to stone or commemorated by the erection of two megaliths near the track to Cwm Garw farmhouse. “Cwmcerwyn” was also one of Pembrokeshire’s highest rivers, forming the entire western boundary of Mynachlogddu parish (formerly the “Nigra Grangia” of St Dogmael’s abbey, prior to the Dissolution). And “Cwmcerwyn” was one of the important early manor houses in the area (along with Dolaumaen, Dyffryn Ffilbro, Llandre, Blaencleddau, Plasdwbl, etc.); reduced by the early 20th century to the status of just another farmhouse, it was vacant at the time of the Second World War, when it was tragically and somewhat incomprehensibly to be used for target practice by Allied bombers, and utterly destroyed.

Cwmcerwyn was all of this and more. Cwmcerwyn is thus well worth remembering; even if what we remember, as people who were not there, is often that we do not know quite what we are meant to be remembering. To me this message speaks of matriotism over patriotism or society over state; of the importance of local history in informing us about the real significance of grander historical narratives and global events when translated to a local societal scale: like the dissolution of the monasteries changing the pattern of land-ownership and land-use; or the Second World War precipitating irreversible societal shifts, and leaving unexpected scars on the landscape, even far from the field of conflict. The message also speaks to me of the importance of remembering; but also, perhaps, of the inevitability of forgetting: of the great significance of small things, and, paradoxically, the ultimate insignificance of even the greatest events in human history. That history is complex, and full of intrigue; but rarely offers simple comforting truths.

This is what it means to me; but it may mean something completely different to you. Or, indeed, it may mean nothing at all.

I.M. Ffermdy Cwm Cerwyn, approx: 1344–1944.

The stone having just been painted.

A Velky, 2019.

14/06/2019: Happy St Dogmael’s Day

Photograph of St Dogmael sculpture taken by Lyn Haigh

Perhaps the most important lesson history can teach us is that today was not inevitable. Today was once one of countless possible futures. If anything matters, what we do, and how we choose to live our lives, matters.

So Happy St Dogmael’s Day! The 6th Century Saint about whom very little is known has two recorded dates suggested to be his feast day. The other is Halloween, so for convenience’s sake, this will do nicely. I also had a crackpot theory that our local church, dedicated to him, faces the direction of the sunrise on his feast day (certainly it does not face due East). But today was overcast, so I did not get to find out first-hand. My calculations actually suggest sunrise on the 15th of April is closer to the exact angle; so perhaps the (13th century) church of St Dogmael, Mynachlogddu, faces the way it faces due to topographical reasons alone.

As for the dedication… the church is believed by local historians to have originally been built as a private chapel by the Abbott of St Dogmael’s Abbey in the village of the same name in North Pembrokeshire (possibly, as is often the case, on the site of an earlier chapel, a monk’s cell, or a pagan site of worship). The land that later became Mynachlogddu parish was gifted to the Abbey by the Norman Marcher Lord of Cemais (North Pembrokeshire). The village name itself (Mynachlog-Ddu; Black Monastery) signifies a monastic grange; and the village’s 20th century historian, E T Lewis, concluded that the name most likely referred to the ownership of the land by the Tironensian abbey from the 1100s, rather than to an earlier monastic settlement in the immediate area; which latter theory has often been proffered as an explanation, but never with any satisfactory evidence.

Dogmael was the cousin of the much better-known Dewi (David), now the patron saint of Wales. Both are believed to have been alive in the 6th century, and to have been grandchildren of King Ceredig (of Ceredigion) himself the son of Cunedda Wledig, one of the most important figures of early Welsh history. Ceredig apparently arrived in what is now modern Wales from Gododdin (Yr Hen Ogledd, which would later become the Anglo-Scottish borderlands) with his father’s family when they were invited to the West to help ward off Irish invaders. If, as tradition suggests, his grandson Dogmael founded an abbey on the west bank of the Teifi, he did not have to travel far from Ceredigion to do so.

One of the oldest farms in our village is called Pant Ithel, and was in the 16th century called “Pentre Ithel” (Ithel’s Estate or Ithel’s Manor). It is possible that Dogmael’s father founded it in the 5th century; but much likelier that it was named after him (or even after another Ithel) hundreds of years later.

The conquest of what is now Pembrokeshire by the family of Cunedda was almost certainly seen as a re-conquest on behalf of the Britons, and on behalf of Christianity. Bearing in mind the Romans (just about) conquered Wales, but never made it to Ireland. The Christianization of the Irish tends to be dated to the 5th century, but since the Irish Déisi are said to have begun settling in West Wales and Southwest England as early as the 4th, they came as Pagans into an at-least-partly Christianized Post-Roman Britain, whose at-least-partly Romanized British leaders were at that time beset by Pagan invasions from Germanics in the East, Picts in the North, and Irish in the West. The Christian future of Britain was by no means inevitable, and for reasons we can only guess at, many high-born men like Dogmael chose to make the survival and propagation of Christianity their life’s work.

For a broader human context, Britain at this time was one relatively soggy, relatively irrelevant corner of an increasingly connected network of closely related and rapidly advancing human societies, spread out across the Old World. It was about 100 years since the would-be King of Britain, Vortigern, had (according to Gildas) invited the Germanic Pagan warlords Hengist and Horsa to the Isle of Thanet to help him subdue and unite the British. He failed; but succeeded in bringing about the cultural dominance of Germanics in Britain for the next thousand years and more.

The World in 500AD

In Central America the Maya civilization was in the midst of its Classic period; blissfully oblivious to the existence of an Old World, at least in any scientific sense. Muhammad was to be born in Mecca in 570; but until he was, the religions of the day that vied for power in the cultural crossroads of Central and Western Asia were Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Buddhism and Hinduism. Manicheism had spread east from The Sasanian Empire through the Tarim Basin into China, and had even made it to Britain, at least, nominally, via Greece, Italy and Gaul. But due to heavy persecution by the (by-now) reasonably well-established Christian hegemony in the still and formerly Roman lands, the religion of Mani had almost disappeared from western Europe by the fifth century.

Iceland was yet to be discovered by Irish monks, let alone Vikings. Indeed, the Viking age had not yet begun; and Irish monks, and Welsh monks, and Breton monks, and Cornish monks, were busy spreading Christ’s teachings in every corner of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, and Brittany.

They call this period in Welsh (or British) history the Post-Roman Age, or the Age of Saints. But it was also an age of almost constant conflict between competing petty kingdoms. Our corner of the island was Dyfed: a kingdom on the site of the older Demetae. Vortiporius was its king, supposedly. And Gildas would later refer to him as a “spotted leopard” and a “tyrant”, but would not quite explain why he held him in such low esteem.
Vortiporius’ ancestry was supposedly both Brythonic “Welsh” and Déisi “Irish”; whether or not there’s any use in regarding him as a real historic figure, he seems adequately emblematic of the time, when West Wales was becoming more Welsh than Irish again, and more Christian than it had been recently, or perhaps at any point. Indeed, Christianity was still evolving. This from Wikipedia describes a disagreement between two renowned 5th century Christian thinkers, which was perhaps partly a result of their geographical origins:

“Modern scholars have suggested that Manichaeanism influenced the development of some of Augustine of Hippo’s ideas, such as the nature of good and evil, the idea of hell, the separation of groups into elect, hearers, and sinners, and the hostility to the flesh and sexual activity, and his dualistic theology. These influences may well have been part of the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius, a British monk whose theology, being less influenced by the Latin Church, was non-dualistic, and one that saw the created order, and mankind in particular, as having a Divine core, rather than a ‘darkness’ at its core.”

Both were active until the early 5th century; Augustine came from North Africa, and Pelagius from Britain (or Ireland). Pelagius’ name has traditionally been understood as a Graecized form (from pélagos, “sea”) of the Welsh name Morgan (“sea-born”) or an equivalent Irish name. As fate would have it, Pelagius is now most famous for the notion of “Pelagian heresy“, which probably wasn’t quite what he aspired to.

A century or two later, perhaps in the lifetime of Dogmael, but probably a few generations beyond, another man named Augustine was to have a similarly conflicting relationship with Welsh/British Christianity. Augustine of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, is thought to have been born in Italy. The episode of his visit to Wales is described below (again, taken from Wikipedia):

“Augustine failed to extend his authority to the Christians in Wales and Dumnonia [Devon and Cornwall] to the west. [Pope] Gregory [The Great] had decreed that these Christians should submit to Augustine and that their bishops should obey him, apparently believing that more of the Roman governmental and ecclesiastical organisation survived in Britain than was actually the case. According to the narrative of Bede, the Britons in these regions viewed Augustine with uncertainty, and their suspicion was compounded by a diplomatic misjudgement on Augustine’s part. In 603, Augustine and Æthelberht summoned the British bishops to a meeting south of the Severn. These guests retired early to confer with their people, who, according to Bede, advised them to judge Augustine based upon the respect he displayed at their next meeting. When Augustine failed to rise from his seat on the entrance of the British bishops, they refused to recognise him as their archbishop. There were, however, deep differences between Augustine and the British church that perhaps played a more significant role in preventing an agreement. At issue were the tonsure, the observance of Easter, and practical and deep-rooted differences in approach to asceticism, missionary endeavours, and how the church itself was organised. Some historians believe that Augustine had no real understanding of the history and traditions of the British church, damaging his relations with their bishops. Also, there were political dimensions involved, as Augustine’s efforts were sponsored by the Kentish king, and at this period the Wessex and Mercian kingdoms were expanding to the west, into areas held by the Britons.”

So, all that aside, what do we know about Dogmael?

Alas! Almost nothing.

Emily Pritchard says (in The History of St Dogmael’s Abbey) that he lived around 500AD (100 years before the first Archbishop of Canterbury), that he founded a hermitage on the banks of the Teifi (which became a “religious house” after many flocked to join him). That he travelled to Brittany at some point. His abbey apparently endured till 800AD when it was attacked by Saxons, and 900AD when it was destroyed by Vikings. If he came to Mynachlogddu, or to whatever the land on the southern slopes of the Preselis was called then, there is no evidence for it. I have a romantic notion that he got tired of the monastery by the Teifi in his old age, and headed for the hills to be alone with God once more.

This is from the dictionary of Welsh Biography:

“To judge from the churches bearing his name, his activities in Wales were confined almost entirely to Pembrokeshire; for Llandudoch or S. Dogmaels (on the Teifi, opposite Cardigan) together with Capel Degwel in the same parish, S. Dogwell’s (near Fish-guard), Mynachlog-ddu, and Meline are all in that county. The only exception is the church of Llanddogwel in Anglesey, formerly a parish in itself, but later attached to Llanfechell. In the 12th century a Benedictine priory was established on the site of Dogmael’s chief foundation at Llandudoch. Traces of a S. Dogmael are to be found also in Brittany.”

I have also read that Dogmael insisted his followers bathed daily in the Teifi river, no matter what time of year it was. I had thought this a fitting tribute, and a way to mark his feast day (perhaps in our own river: Afon Wern) but it’s unseasonably cold, and I am still ill, and I am no ascetic at the best of times. So I wrote this blog-post last night instead.

When the second Landskerian Republic is finally declared (date TBC) I will propose to parliament that St Dogmael, patron saint of children learning to walk, is adopted as our state’s patron.

Your etc.,

A Velky

12/05/2019: Pimlico Nights, Part 2

At the time of writing it’s probably over a month since I spent the night in Pimlico; nevertheless, since the job I began in February is still going, and into its fourth (and contractually, its concluding) month, this blog post will necessarily be a spiritual successor to the previous one.

The night after I posted Part 1 I spent my most blogworthy (AKA wretched) night in Pimlico. More wretched even than New Year’s Eve circa 2008 when I was locked out of my flat and had to trawl the tube stations till dawn, staring at grey-brown mice among the tracks and being barked back by stern security who mistook my insomniac mutterings for suicidal desperation; rather than hungover sleeplessness and simmering anger at my flatmates. Or possibly Steve; something tells me it was somehow Steve’s fault I couldn’t get into my flat. Was it even my flat at that time? I don’t know, but I definitely should have been allowed in.

I digress. The night after I posted the last post I stayed in a sticky, peeling, funky, foreboding single room in an annex of one of the cheaper Pimlico hotels. The room number (15) was not offered by any of the signs on the walls in the entrance hall, and I had to find it by process of elimination. Its sink was right behind the entrance door. Its shower was right by the bed. And its carpet had seen better decades. The toilet was two floors down sandwiched between two other bedrooms. But the sheets were clean, despite an ominous dark spotting on the mattress beneath; so I wasn’t expecting much to blog about. I had a pint down the road and read my book. I came back and turned on the TV.

It was only moments after I flicked a caramel-coloured bug off the bedsheet (while I was watching Masterchef and eating some intensely seasoned Turkish crisp snack) that the two key words from that sequence emerged from among their fellows to form a compound rarely juxtaposed in my vocabulary: bed + bug. I thought about that as I crunched my crisps, and was not encouraged by the possibilities it suggested. I began Googling…

About eight hours later I crushed the tenth bedbug with the remote control, and its blood, or, more plausibly, my blood, squirted up into my face. I decided at that point, at two a.m., that I did not deserve this. That this ought not any longer to be an episode in my existence. I’d had no sleep whatsoever due to the quite reasonable paranoia brought on by single shield-shaped little bastards marching determinedly across clean cotton every time I dared dim the lights and close my eyes. I’d never encountered bedbugs in real life before, and hope never to again. I did not notice once the event of being bit, but bit I was. Ten times bitten and digon yw digon: I packed my things and went to find the manager. The manager was not there, so I wheeled my rattling suitecase down moonlit Warwick Way to look for the first welcoming hotel whose doors might still be open to travellers at this ungodly hour. It was, to my relief, Hotel Enrico. Or Enrico Hotel; I forget which way round they have it. I got about three and a half hours of nightmare-fuelled sleep before my alarm announced that it was time to return to the scene of the crime and to demand my money back.

Around the time I published my last (or, I should say, my most recent) poetry book I had an epiphany that any form of editorialised record-keeping (such as this blog) is not really true history, but fictionalised history. And that the only true history is the document itself; the primary source. With each copy of that book I sold (or gave away) I sellotaped a line documenting a bank transaction from the enormous pile of statements I had printed when I was unsuccessfully trying to reclaim some historical overdraft charges from Lloyds bank for the approximate period of the first decade of the 21st century. Each sellotaped transaction was a true unit of history: uneditorialised proof of an event. Specifically, a financial event; there are other kinds, but few are so methodically and unambiguously documented. Births, marriages, deaths, and things being bought or sold. That’s about it, right? I mention this here because it occurs to me that the quarterly VAT spreadsheet I’ve been completing, including all of my train tickets, hotel bookings, dinners, snacks, evening drinks, morning coffees, late lunches, etc. – that gives a much more thorough account of the second period of my Pimlico Nights than I could ever hope (or be bothered) to here. But it doesn’t mention the bedbugs. There’s a refunded hotel booking in my receipts folder, sure; but it doesn’t. mention. the bedbugs. Are the bedbugs part of history too? I reckon so.

Anyway, I finally got to go to Wahaca with Steve and Paul. The Oxford Circus one. It’s a Mexican streetfood place. It was nice. We had margaritas and tacos. But I was reminded of a dinner some ten years previous (everything happened ten years ago it seems) at Loco Mexicano on the road leading from Victoria Station to Warwick Way (where we then lived) and how it was someone’s birthday – I’m going to say Ralf’s, but I really don’t remember – and halfway through our meal a host of sombrero-wearing staff surrounded our table, shouting celebratory sentiments and hammering away at untuned guitars. That didn’t happen at Wahaca. The atmosphere was quiet and sombre. Sure, it was a Monday night in March, and I was recovering from a bedbug invasion. But it didn’t feel like fun as fun used to feel. I think this is also known as being old. Fun doesn’t disappear, necessarily; but it ceases to be found in the same places. I don’t know. Maybe Loco Mexicano is still fun.

The following week I stayed at a towering, labyrinthine hostel full of chattering European teenagers (in my own private room, mind you) and enjoyed views over one of Pimlico’s scant squares: a private green patch full of shrubs and tall plane trees. The bed was superbly uncomfortable. The job was going well, but I’d reached the limits of what I could achieve in Pimlico and it was becoming clear I was soon going to have to hit the road. Or, rather, the railway track.

Which is what I’m doing at the time of writing. I’m off to Plymouth to interview a vicar in a rural church about his broadband. Last week I went to Witton Gilbert near Durham and did a similar thing.

My last visit to London was brief, and I took the opportunity to stay with Zef and Felicia. Zef cooked, and it was nice to have some company following what had been a rather boring trip the time before, when I had again failed to arrange any entertainment, and just sat about in my hostel watching films I’d already seen. Durham, by virtue of not being Pimlico, was its own entertainment for the evening. I ate Lebanese food at the wonderfully named Lebaneat. Chicken livers, babaghanoush and hummus. Then I had a pint in a pub that Jon recommended via Twitter. The city is beautiful and manageably sized. Lots of posh kids and Chinese kids and European kids, mostly from the university I guess. The spectacle of the cathedral emerging from the treetops, standing high above the river, as seen from the bridge, is so beautiful it’s hard to believe humans had a hand in its arrangement. The Kingslodge Inn, my overnight, proved positively luxurious compared with most of the digs I’d dug in London since February, and I was sad to only be staying one night. Comfy bed, delicious (free) breakfast, friendly staff… and when I asked if I could leave my case with them after checkout, for a few hours, they just gestured to the floor by the bar: “yeah, no problem. Just leave it there.” I treated myself to a walk back from Witton Gilbert to Durham, via the ruined Beaurepaire Priory, which was so ruined I utterly failed to find it. But the 3-mile walk, rainswept but not cold, along a disused railway track, was very welcome. I staggered into Durham station, blisters aplenty (having barely broken in my new boots) with seconds to spare before my train rolled in. The people in the north, on the trains especially, were alarmingly nice. And the journey was incredibly long.

Easter was a welcome respite from the travelling. But May is here now and there is work to be done. I only just have time to maintain my knotweed-extermination programme and to keep fishing the bags of rubbish out of Afon Wern in the inbetween hours. The family and animals at home are mostly taking care of themselves, and each other.

Our house in Old Landskeria is still on the market. My shed base is built and awaiting a shed. V is working on the garden, and recovering from an operation on her back (interesting combination, I know). Fury won third prize for painting at the Eisteddfod, and Sybil is getting to grips with her new(ish!) bike.

I am away to Great Malvern on Friday; a few days after my return from Dartmoor.

And then: Eurovision, and an unscheduled vote in the European parliamentary elections.

A Velky

24/03/2019: Pimlico Nights, Part 1(?)

Like the state it once declared itself independent of (i.e. the UK) and the partly devolved country where its territorial claims have been focused (i.e. Wales) Landskeria is of late an entity more characterised by doubt than by certainty; and more by questions than answers.

Questions like: Can we afford a new porch? Who is the correct authority to report littering to? And: Where do the hundreds of bats that live in our loft go to from October to March every year?

Those questions are only applicable to Landskeria; but similar ones on a different scale are plaguing the administrative rhythms of the larger entities that Landskeria finds itself simultaneously a part of, and apart from.

Since the beginning of February this year I have been commuting to London on an almost weekly basis. I’ve spent about a third of my time in Pimlico, a third in Landskeria, and a third on trains or in cars getting from one of these places to the other. I have a contract job in Westminster, just a short walk from Warwick Way where I lived with two friends I met at Exeter University for a short while in the Noughties, until approximately ten years ago when I met the woman who is now my wife and moved in with her in Hackney.

As a result of this period of intense extra-governmental activity, Landskeria has effectively been functioning without a government. Like Northern Ireland. But unlike Northern Ireland, none of our elected representatives are holding sway over the Government of the parent state whose jurisdiction we have found ourselves under. Thus Landskeria is still careering toward an exit from the European Union, and there’s very little we can do about it. Just try to stay sane and keep paying our bills.

Of a more immediate concern to me than “Landskrexit” is the continued depositing of plastic carrier bags full of of rubbish into Afon Wern, by (or on behalf of, or, at the very least, containing intermittent correspondence addressed to) one Glyn Nicholas of the neighbouring parish of Llangolman. I am looking into the best course of action for dealing with this, since my philosophical attitude toward the state of affairs is frequently challenged by my wife, who does not like me sorting through sopping wet bags of other people’s household waste in our own kitchen. (For some reason.)

Having little else I can say about that at this time, until the relevant extra-Landskerian authorities have answered my calls for assistance, the rest of this blogpost will be an account, for posterity, of the time I’ve spent thus far, during the early months of 2019, in and around my old neighbourhood of Warwick Way, Pimilco, London.

Week 1: 3 nights, Hotel Romano

My work having kindly agreed to cover my travel costs and provide a modest stipend for days when I am working away from home, I calculated that provided I stayed only in the cheapest and least salubrious resting places made available by the tides of supply and demand in Westminster, I ought to be able to conduct my business as a cog in the machine of the United Kingdom’s celebrated capital without imposing upon siblings (in law or blood) or friends (of whom, here or elsewhere, my age and situation leaves me with increasingly fewer with each year that passes). Nevertheless, I did not want to spend every evening away watching TV and drinking Huel, so on my first week in town I arranged to meet Paul for dinner at Cypress Mangal, opposite where we used to live; and this social outing served to partly quench the tides of frazzlement whipped up by the stormy mental conditions associated with beginning a new job. We talked mostly about work and family. A little bit about politics, but not much. We had some turkish white wine and mezzes. I had salmon. The hotel was depressing at first: the room was small and bare, and felt quite unlike anything one might recognize as “home”. But I quickly got used to it. There was a balcony overlooking the main road outside; which balcony was accessible from the balconies of neighbouring rooms, and indeed buildings. I was alarmed to find there was no key, and promptly asked for one at reception, much to the confusion of the glum, apparently unPortuguese concierge. Nights were restless, though the bed was comfortable. Breakfasts were hearty. Days were long.

Week 2: 3 nights, Enrico Hotel

I neglected to arrange any dinners in my second week; which was foolish: I’ve by now worked out that there are still more living people that I know, like, and can broadly class as friends, living in or near London, than I will have evenings in which to meet them before my contract ends in time for the beginning of the summer months. I had Huel for dinner most nights, as I had for most evening meals (and all lunches) on the first week. I watched the tiny TV in the quaintly old-fashioned hotel, which had is reception downstairs and looked like it hadn’t been redecorated since the ‘70s, and WhatsApped V to compare notes on Grand Designs. I treated myself to a takeaway kebab from Cypress Mangal one night; but they made it unfathomably large, and I had trouble getting to sleep as a result. Nights were still restless at this stage. Largely due to the increased mental activity after a while spent without full-time (paid) employment; but the kebab almost certainly didn’t help matters. I spent about an hour each evening reading a book about the growth of the Blood Libel in medieval Europe, while supping an ale in one or other of the decent but unremarkable pubs in the vicinity. I found a pound down the back of a chair in one of them, and briefly calculated how many such discoveries I might have to make per sitting if I were to consider reading books in pubs as a viable alternative career. Too many, was the conclusion. Breakfasts were even heartier at Hotel Enrico – and earlier, which fact I was grateful for, as it allowed me to make the days even longer. The bed was not comfortable, but it did not especially matter, since I am not very fussy.

Week 3: 3 nights, Gustavo’s (not a hotel)

The third week found me seconded to Vauxhall, which disgruntled me sufficiently that I subsequently took control of the booking process from my wife. It turned out I was fussy – specifically, about location. The extra mile walk each morning was probably good for my health, but, when combined with the even longer walks I willingly took to meet Steve at a pub in Soho one night, and then Dave at a pub near Sloane Square on another night (not necessarily in that order), all that extra walking did for the soles of my brogues. By the end of the third week I had two out of three pairs of shoes needing cobbling before their reuse was viable. The anticipation of this necessity had encouraged me to write a simple villanelle about the experience, and my meeting with Paul in the first week (included as a PS to this blog-post). I promised Steve I’d write a poem after meeting him, and have yet to fulfil that promise. One cannot simply summon the muse, unfortunately; the muse visits without warning and must be accommodated or spurned as the poet sees fit. I went to a nice bento place with Steve, and he bought me food, since he could tell (since I am not very good at hiding it) that I was almost out of money by this point. The costs associated with working away had yet to be mitigated by the benefits, since I hadn’t yet invoiced for my first month’s worth of work. We talked about architecture, mostly, and I consulted with Steve about my plans for an extension to the front of the house – a combined porch and sun room. I’d found out it would cost at least thirty thousand pounds, which was unfortunate because I didn’t have any pounds; much less thirty thousand of them. I was going to have to postpone the project, much to my annoyance. When I met Dave, I had a cheapish burger and we chatted about work, and about our respective geniuses not being wholly recognised. He showed me a Lego village he’d built in his flat. It was huge. The hotel that week wasn’t a hotel, as I mentioned above, but a ground-floor flat on an estate by a big road. A big road called Vauxhall, where Kate Hoey presumably lives. There were French people eating dinner when I arrived, which I wasn’t expecting. I asked them if they were expecting me, and they assured me that they were not. It turned out the flat was divided into three secure rooms with a communal area, which was clean and convenient, and a TV which defaulted to a dirty sex channel if you dared turn it on; which I consequently did not dare to do again. I worked out how to make TV happen in my room, using my phone and laptop combined. But since I was out both evenings, there wasn’t much time for Huel or iPlayer. As good as the place was, I missed Pimlico and vowed to return there next week if even remotely possible. The days were long, but work was beginning to fall into place, so I slept better. Breakfasts, alas, like lunches, were desk-based, and often largely reliant on Huel.

Week 4: 3 nights, Park Hotel, 1 night, Zef’s

The next week I was even poorer, and thus arranged no evening meetings, and mostly drank Huel. I stayed in Park Hotel, which was the cheapest and so far the least clean hotel I’ve stayed in. It had a shower in the room though, which was a first. Not counting the place in Vauxhall, which had an en-suite, but which was not a hotel and not in Pimlico, and therefore bad. Both Romano and Enrico had shared shower and toilet facilities located just a short jog down the hall. So this place was both a step up and a step down. I treated myself to a sit-in pizza at O Sole Mio in Pimlico, realizing halfway through my meal that I had eaten here once before – ten years ago, or maybe more, when I lived on Warwick Way. I was probably dining with Paul. Quite possibly Ralf too, who now lives in Australia and whom I consequently never see. Maybe Steve or Adam were there too; since they had lived in South London at the time, and thus would often come to visit us in Westminster, which is much nicer than South London. The breakfasts at Park Hotel were too late to bother with (eight o clock; pah!) so I made do with takeaway flat whites and yogurty, porridgey things from Eat on the way to the office. Huel at lunch, as standard. Snickerses and Jack Daniels and cokes in the evening; and intensely flavoured Turkish crisp snacks from a newsagent on Warwick Way; odd, the things one finds oneself ingesting by habit when in new or different places. And odd how soon habits are formed and adhered to. I would never eat a nut-product at home, because my daughter is allergic. But drinking whisk(e)y and coke is something I haven’t done much of since I was a teenager; so I’ve no idea what about working in Westminster has made me think it’s a thing I do now. But it has. And thus it is. The nights were becoming more restful by week 4; though the days were getting longer and longer, and the job’s full complexity was now apparent, it all still seemed vaguely in control. Some bits were progressing faster than I’d anticipated, and some slower. But the overall progress seemed okay, so I was having no trouble sleeping now; and though I still enjoyed the process of leaving London halfway through the week, and did not enjoy leaving Landskeria on Sunday afternoons, I by no means felt only relief in returning, nor only regret on leaving. I had begun to enjoy arriving in London as well as leaving it. This week I managed to go north for a night to Stoke Newington to see my brother Zef, and Felicia, and to enjoy an evening in their company; though money was still tight, so I was grateful that we ate out at an affordable pizza place in Dalston. We passed the cinema where my oldest brother once sent me with £5 so that I would be out of his way while he was entertaining a female friend. I was about 18 or 19, I think. I watched Swimming Pool. I was grateful for the fiver, since I had none of my own, but thought the arrangement odd since I had come to Hackney specifically to see him.

Week 5: 2 nights, The Grapevine (actually Sheriff) Hotel

By week five I was into the “usually working from home” part of my contract, but still had meetings to attend, so returned to Pimlico for the shorter duration of two nights. On my way to my hotel I passed a residential square and saw an illuminated study in a gorgeously posh home, with a stunning library. I fantasized momentarily about somehow being invited in to that library and being paid to read it all, book-by-book. It seemed glorious, but then so did the notion of writing for a living before I started doing it, whereupon it swiftly became usual; and, besides, if I were employed by the eccentric elderly gentleman who (in my fantasy) owned that library, I would be working away from home all the time. My hotel, on my arrival, had apparently been aggressively acquired by its neighbour, so I checked in there, and was directed out of the building and down the street to one of its exclaves. I never saw more than the sign on the door of The Grapevine Hotel, which sign instructed me to go to Sheriff Hotel, whose concierge, when he finally arrived, was perfectly polite and helpful. The room in Sheriff Hotel’s annex/exclave was great. The bed was comfortable. I slept like a king; but a king with a legitimate claim to the throne, and the support of the majority of his barons, and numerous healthy heirs. By this time I had a new book to read on the train and in the pubs, and was devouring (not literally) Norman Davies’s “The Isles: A History”. At 1,000+ pages in length, it put paid to any daydreams I’d had about beginning the writing of a new (or indeed an old) novel during my commute. But it was very enjoyable, so I didn’t much care. I even did a bit of reading in the hotel room, although soon defaulted to the usual televisual banquet of Grand Designs, Masterchef, Fleabag, and the new series of Alan Partridge. The work was quite enjoyable by this point, although occasionally frustrating. I had taken (since my days were often ten hours or longer) to having brisk walks around Parliament Square after my (Huel) lunch. There were protests every day. Pro-Brexit, Anti-Brexit, Bangladeshi, Ambazonian, and other domestic. The breakfast was very good at Sheriff, although not quite as good, or as early, as that at Enrico Hotel, which remains the gold standard in that particular department. On Monday evening I met Steve and Paul, the former before the latter, and we went to Yalla Yalla because Paul won the coin toss. I had suggested Wahaca, but was very happy with the standard of food (and wine) in the Lebanese restaurant Paul chose. I also had some money, because Victoria had been paid. (Although, I had not yet been paid, so the money very swiftly ran out.) I had my first taste of babaganoush, which was something of a revelation. I was beginning to run out of Huel, but still exclusively lunching on it, and rather looking forward to not having any left; although simultaneously aware that without Huel or money I might end up going hungry.

Week 6: 2 nights, Hotel Romano

The sixth week of my contract saw me return, only semi-willingly, to Hotel Romano. The first place I’d stayed, which had seemed a dismal spot on my first visit, was actually perfectly adequate once I got over the pain of being separated from my beloved homeland, and my fellow Landskerian fauna. But repeating a booking did not sit well with my spirit of adventure. So I was pleased to be directed to a different room this time – and pleased when the thoroughly glum concierge recognized me from my previous visit, and even twitched a little at the corner of his lip as if tempted to smile. (I don’t suppose many people come back to Hotel Romano.) But having enjoyed my second visit, and the novelty of a new room (this time with an en-suite entirely encapsulated within a plastic cube, sort of resembling part of a spaceship on a mid-twentieth-century TV show) I did wonder whether I should keep re-booking with a view to eventually sampling every type of room on offer at the hotel and thus becoming the world’s foremost independent expert on Hotel Romano, Pimlico. But, I reasoned with myself, it would not do to abandon the criteria which had thus far guided my choices – the cheapest single, private room available at several days’ notice, within a reasonable (1-2 mile) walking distance from the office. I slept well in Hotel Romano this time. Although I was by now so poor that I had to survive almost exclusively on Huel for the duration of my stay (and biscuits nabbed at the end of meetings); so I arranged no dinners, and after I’d watched a papillon win Crufts on Monday night, I went to bed at about 8 o’clock. The breakfast at Romano’s was good again; although still not as good as that I had at Enrico Hotel. If only the breakfast from Enrico Hotel could be combined with the great location (and superior key-card system) at Hotel Romano, maybe with the price of Park Hotel, at its cheapest, and the comfortable bed at the Hotel Sheriff exclave falsely advertised as part of The Grapevine Hotel – between them, these budget Pimlico hotels could create one perfect budget hotel experience. But no single one of them had everything quite right. Be it possessing an abundance of coat-hangers but nowhere to hang them (Enrico), or ample hanging space but insufficient hangers (Romano), or a TV that was completely incapable of emitting sound or being angled to afford a satisfactory picture (Sheriff/Grapevine), or not actually being a hotel and having unexpected French people in it (Gustavo’s, Vauxhall), or simply the presence of an incredibly filthy and foul-smelling carpet (Park), it seemed every hotel had at least some room for improvement. But, in its way, each hotel was also a welcome refuge from the buzz and stink of the streets of Westminster; even those hotels which had their own buzzes and stinks did at the very least provide variation on the sounds and smells of the outside world; and, invariably, an overwhelmingly hot radiator which was impossible to exert any control over.

Week 7: home

On the seventh week I rested; or rather, I finally worked for an entire week from home. I promptly came down with a stinking cold and had a pretty awful week of it. The weather was also dreadful (close and muggy and damp) although it became glorious on the Sunday afternoon as I packed my case to return for another 3-day half-week in London. Nearly halfway through the contract now, and thus nearly halfway through the project. (At least, I think I am.) My eighth week on the job, in which I will stay, once again (or possibly for the first time?) in The Grapevine Hotel. I look forward to discovering whether I’m really staying there this time, or whether Hotel Sheriff have once more appropriated my booking. One day I’d like to stay at Hotel Vegas, which sounds really classy; but I’ll just have to see where the market takes me…

Yours, in the spirit of adventure.

Joint First Minister in Exile of the Stateless Nation of Landskeria,

A Velky

PS

The abovementioned poem:

Villanelle for Pimlico

Working in Westminster and wearing shoes.
No headspace for headlines. So why pretend?
No time for me to think about the news:

I have a book to read about the Jews
in medieval Norwich. Met a friend
who works in Westminster (while wearing shoes);

at dinner we went easy on the booze:
talked family, work, the past, and how ways wend.
No time for us to talk much about news.

A decade’s past since last I walked this mews.
Could twenty-five-year-old me comprehend
working in Westminster? (Or wearing shoes?)

The routes we take to work are all we choose.
And time makes tools of us all in the end.
Working in Westminster and wearing shoes;
no time for me to think about the news.

PPS

I am now, while copying this blogpost, written on the train, into WordPress, in The Grapevine Hotel (not the Sheriff Hotel). There is a shower right next to my bed, but my toilet is in a completely different part of the building, next to someone else’s room. The TV works and there is adequate hangerage. There are vivid stains beneath the superficially clean bedding.

A bibliography of Pembrokeshire history sources

Since moving from Old Landskeria to New Landskeria (which at the time of writing stubbornly remains “New” by virtue of Old Landskeria still existing as an absentee estate of the Landskerians in spite of their attempts to suitably dispose of it) I have felt something akin to a rooting process beginning. It may be a phantom feeling; it’s hard to tell, since I’ve not had it before. Old Landskeria was our home for 5 years, and that was the longest I’ve lived in any one building by a fair bit. But I never thought of it as a permanent home. New Landskeria feels different, which is why I have spent most of the past 17 months (or most of the time I’ve not been grappling with spades, rakes, axes, pressure-washers, pens, chainsaws, etc.) with my head buried in books and, erm, computers, researching the history of the house, the nearby church, the parish of Mynachlogddu, the cantref of Cemais, the county of Pembrokeshire, and the ancient kingdoms of Dyfed and Deheubarth. To what end – other than death, obviously – I’m not sure. But it felt like the right thing to do. My copy of Norman Davies’s three-inch-thick history of Europe lies gathering dust on the shelf with my bookmark stalled at the point of the Industrial Revolution. Numerous novels and poetry books are similarly abandoned; those I was reading and those I was writing. I do not fret over such things anymore; one gets to an age and one has to do what one wants to; as much as is reasonable, possible, and considerate to one’s fellow folk.

That preambled, here is a list of things I’ve been reading in the above-mentioned general area of interest, with links to any copyright-free online versions I’ve found. I plan to add to this here as I add to it out there, and we’ll see how this goes. Needless to say that if anybody ends up on this page and has any recommendations for me, I would be very grateful.

(The list is vaguely chronological according to subject-matter as opposed to date of source’s publication.)

Mynachlog-ddu: a Guide to its antiquities by E. T. Lewis
Referenced in longer texts such as the aforementioned, this book contains detail concerning the (mostly) Preseli region prehistoric monuments to be found in (and near) the parish of Mynachlogddu.

Geographia II by Claudius Ptolemy
Circa 150AD, this is the first (AFAIK) written record of the people who lived here in sunny Pembrokeshire (then called the Demetae, by the Romans at least) and the places they lived in (okay, the large settlements mentioned are in modern day Carmarthenshire, but some coastal Pembrokeshire landmarks are referred to).

Neolithic and Bronze age Pembrokeshire by Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright
One presumes this academic document (part of a greater whole, but what whole I’m not sure) also makes up much of Pembrokeshire County History, Volume 1 (priced prohibitively at £35) but due to accident or incident you can view it (including fantastic full-colour maps and images) free on the Bournemouth University website. I have seen no better single source for Pembrokeshire’s early and pre-history.

The Romans in Pembrokeshire by Dr Mark Merrony
A somewhat more recent source than Ptolemy’s, though dealing with the same era. This is a transcript of an excellent lecture given to the Pembrokeshire Historical Society in 2018. Some good stuff on a suspected roman road (Via Julia) which passed over the Cleddau Ddu at Rhydwilym, and on Flemming’s Castle / Castle Flemish – a suspected Roman villa between the villages of Ambleston and Puncheston.

De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae by St Gildas
Circa 520ish. I haven’t actually read all or even much of this. But in it Gildas refers to the Demetians and their leader “Vortipore” whom he likens to a “spotted leopard” and calls a “tyrant”, and this is the only historical record of the locals from that era. Kinda makes you wonder about Gildas, TBH…

Early Welsh Saints by Daniel J Mullins
A good little book serving as a miniature “Lives…” focusing solely on those who spread the good news (if it was called that then) of Christianity from Gwent to Holyhead. Not much on our local church’s St Dogmael; but there’s not much anywhere on him, which might suggest he spent a lot of time living as a hermit. (That’s my view anyway.)

The Lords of Cemais by Dillwyn Miles
I don’t own this, but I got it out the library once and it provided a succinct but thorough account of the ruling folk of north Pembrokeshire from the Norman conquest onwards.

The History of St. Dogmaels by Emily Pritchard
This 1907 book is a very thorough historical record of the ruined abbey of St Dogmaels in northeast Pembrokeshire, and its lands, etc. (which included the entire parish of Mynachlogddu, then referred to as Nigra Grangia). Anything pertaining to the Tironensian monks – from the founding of the abbey in 1113(ish) by Norman invader turned pious philanthropist Robert fitz Martin, right through to when Henry VIII turned up and punched it to the ground – is included herein in as much detail as could be mustered from the Bronwydd estate manuscripts and elsewhere. It mentions (at least according to a later historian’s reckoning) my ACTUAL house, as was in medieval times, which is pretty amazing.

Descriptio Cambriae by Gerald of Wales
A native of Pembrokeshire, Gerald (Giraldus to his mates) was very enthusiastic about the county. A matriot more than a patriot, I suppose, as Welsh nationalism wasn’t really a thing among the gentry back then; what with most of them having come from France (which didn’t yet exist) this is understandable. Identity was both more local in scope and scale (as were many things, naturally) and, perhaps, more universal – at least to the extent of extending, for richer and more powerful folk, to the former Roman Empire and/or Christendom. This is, AFAIK, the earliest attempt to write about Wales as an entity, and the Welsh people as a polity. So I guess Giraldus was a proto-nationalist, after all. The Itinerary Through Wales, in which Gerald accompanies Archbishop Baldwin across the country in his attempt to drum up support for a crusade, is also well worth a look. It’s the source for the (locally) famous anecdote about a man near Moylegrove being devoured by tree-climbing toads, and includes some vaguely accurate geographical detail many years before anyone else is known to have tried to.

The Itinerary in Wales of John Leland
A recent find to me, though dating from the reign of Henry VIII: 1536-1539. A fascinating snapshot of the cultural and administrative shape of Wales at the time of the Act of Union, which effectively resulted in the annexation of Wales by England, and specifically facilitated the end of Marcher Lordships and commotes and their replacement by a county or “shire” system of geographical and political subdivisions, with parishes serving the same purpose on the smallest scale. Leland provides a much more thorough picture than Gerald was able (or inclined) to; although the scope of the work (encompassing all of England as well as Wales) does not allow for the detail of George Owen’s writings, some 60 years later. These writings – never intended, as far as we know, for publication of any kind – were edited and published first in the 1700s by Thomas Hearne, and again in the early 20th century by Lucy Toulmin Smith, whose edition is linked to here.

The Description of Pembrokeshire by George Owen of Henllys
Written in 1602 and sadly not published for almost 200 years, George Owen’s effort is akin to Gerald’s Descriptio in detail, and undoubtedly inspired in its character by the same, but the scope is firmly on his (indeed, their, our) home county. This really is a fantastic book. A semi-modernised edition exists, edited with a very useful introduction courtesy of Dillwyn Miles. (You can loan it from Haverfordwest library once I return it.) But reading it in its Elizabethan (via Georgian) original form ought to be both possible and very enjoyable for anyone with an interest in the subject matter. It covers geography, anthropology, architecture, geology, economics… it really is a joy to read. This must surely be the first detailed description of the geography of the county (both natural and human; not that the two are at odds necessarily – you know what I mean) and his nitpicking over the true sources of the county’s rivers (among other things) shows the birth of a truly scientific way of looking at these things; which virtue does not for one moment spoil the fun of the odd tall tale, notably the rumoured lack of adders in Eglwyswen parish, and the rain of hairy caterpillars that once plagued the countryside around Maenclochog…

A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire by Richard Fenton
Pembrokeshire native Richard Fenton’s 1811 work provides great detail of the landscape and society of early 19th century Pembrokeshire, as well as shedding light on both the history of the county and on the evolution of local historiography. Not content with simply walking around and writing about what he sees, Fenton relates stories and rumours about the history of local sites of significance, and even gets his hands dirty (well; probably other people’s) in excavating hillforts, cromlechs, tumuli, etc. Modern archaeologists might well contend that Fenton’s generation did as much harm as good in the field (boom-boom) of archaeology, but Fenton’s writings are useful, and very entertaining. The sections on Maenclochog, Temple Druid, and Foel Cwmcerwyn are of particular interest to me.

Pembrokeshire Parishes, Places & People: Cemais Hundred by Basil H J Hughes
This seems to be a self-published collection of sources, as it’s archived on a free website yet hard to find in physical form (though published in 2014). As well as a good deal of near-contemporary description, it incorporates extracts from hearth taxes, ecclesiastical records, and a number of relatively elusive historical texts – including A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1849) by Samuel Lewis and Nooks and Corners of Pembrokeshire (1895) by H. Thornhill Timmins; which books respectively detail the industrial, ecclesiastical and residential inventories of Pembrokeshire’s parishes, and offer an updated “description” in the style of Giraldus or George Owen, though bearing more of a resemblance to what we might recognize as modern “travel writing”. All three of these have proved interesting and useful. The Timmins book features the first (AFAIK) written description of Cwmisaf’s woollen mill (then run by Phillip Jefferies). And no doubt many such details which will be important to (and maybe only to) people similarly obsessed by the minutiae of their local history. [The same author has compiled other volumes for each other Pembrokeshire hundred/cantref.)

Mynachlog-ddu: A historical survey of the past thousand years by E. T. Lewis
This highly specific 1969 book is well worth owning if you spend a lot of time in said parish, but probably a bit limiting if you don’t.

Pembrokeshire and the Woollen Industry by J Geraint Jenkins
This is specifically interesting to me as it mentions the disused mill in our garden and offers a few brief details of how and why it ran; pretty much one for people interested in wool and Pembrokeshire.

O’r Witwg I’r Wern – Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows: Mynachlog-Ddu, Llangolman, Llandeilo by Hefin Wyn
I’ve written previously about this book and the specific sections which were helpful in tracing the recent history of our part of Mynachlogddu. It’s a wonderful gift from the community past (and present) to the community future. Every parish should have one, and every collection should be stored online and added to periodically and funded entirely by the government. So obviously that’ll never happen. A similar volume exists (preceding this one I think) for the nearby parish of Maenclochog, with a similarly cumbersome title: Mamgu, Sian Hwel a Naoni/Mamgu, Vicas Howells and Madame Tussauds: Hanes a Hudoliacth Bro Maenclochog/Past and Present Magic of Maenclochog. I’ll get myself a copy one of these days. Both books contain essays and articles and short memoirs in Welsh and in English, with English summaries provided following full-length welsh pieces.

The Happy Ending by Leo Walmsley
This is an “autobiographical novel” and must thus be treated with the caution that that perculiarly tautological label inspires. Ostensibly it recounts Walmsley’s WW2 purchase, occupation, and restoration of the ruined mansion of Temple Druid on the border of Maenclochog and Llandilo parishes. Names of people and places have been changed, however so we are left to guess how accurately the events are described. And the “novel” elements are perhaps even less satisfactorily conventional than the “autobiographical”; there’s barely any plot or character development, for instance. However, in providing a snapshot of the rural Welsh community coping with the pressures of a war and the accompanying advent of a revolution in technology that would dictate changes to the economics and logistics of their agricultural (and cultural) lives, it is very interesting. One presumes the local community described is Maenclochog.

Battle of the Preselau by Hefin Wyn
This short volume details the post-WW2 attempts by the War Office to seize the upland area of North Pembrokeshire for the MOD, and the fierce (albeit pacifist) resistance with which the plans were met by locals. I believe this book is also available in Welsh, unlike many of the others.

. . .

Think that’s the end of the list, so far. If you have any books or articles you can recommend which might help me (or others) gain a greater understanding of local history anywhere on the sliding scale of locality from Wales down to Pembrokeshire, Cemais, the Preselis, Mynachlogddu, or that bit of my garden with the big rocks in it that I don’t understand very well, please leave a comment or get in touch with me in some other manner.