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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
This is inevitable isn’t it? Change is one of the two inevitable truths of existence over time; the other being stagnation, which has also been the rule in some aspects of life and living in Landskeria.
But the first thing you’ll notice is that this is not a Second Quarterly Report; and the third thing you’ll notice is thus that the second quarter has been and gone with no report to mark its passing. We are now at the end of the third quarter. Hence the rebranding of this report as a Biannual Report. We could theoretically call this the Second Biannual Report; but that would be rewriting history. Which would be a decidedly unLandskerian thing to do. So here we are. Tempted though I am to give you a blow-by-blow account of the months of summer and their leavings, I’ll just crack on with the report and assume that the comprehensive nature of the Landskerian administration ought to allow for any and all events (momentous or otherwise) which have passed in the interim to be untangled and laid bare before the eyes of the public hereinafter.
(Before I begin I ought to briefly mention that the Landskerian legislature collapsed in spring following my attempt to reallocate the percentages of voting power to 51%/49% in my favour (as an honest attempt to lubricate the legislative process) and following this there were months of infighting and factionalism, leading to a state of impasse where summer saw no sittings whatsoever by the Landskerian Parliament; thus by this point I have seized de facto control of all departments and have thus prepared all the reports myself based on what scant documentation was available; please forgive their resultant lack of detail.)
Autumn Report 2018
Finance Secretary’s Report from the Bank of Landskeria (Treasury Office)
I still have no little calculator thing to access our business account. Income sources remain a combination of marketing consultancy services, tourism revenue, and foreign aid. Our cultural output briefly threatened to reassert itself as an income stream, but ultimately failed due to a lack of interest in Landskerian culture abroad. Expenditure has increased with the addition of numerous non-human animals to the Landskerian state-funded bodily mass.
Nature Secretary’s Report from the Office of Natural Law (Environment Office) Our number of deliberately sustained non-human animals is currently 8. Pigs are being investigated as a potential source of labour and sustenance.
Drainage has taken a backseat to food production during the drier months. An old pigsty was converted (at great cost: financial, emotional, psychological, etc.) into a chicken coop, and numerous chickens were imported from Wales. Unfortunately most of them have proven to be male, and are thus refusing to lay eggs. The National Parks initiative has stalled, as the diversification of our income streams remains a hot topic, and thus it is difficult to persuade the populace at large that any stone (either real or metaphorical) should remain unturned in the pursuit of profit for the greater goal of Landskerian autonomy. Fortunately, Landskerian technology does not allow for more intrusive enterprises like fracking or uranium mining, or else both would doubtless be going ahead already.
Flytipping from Pont Mynachlogddu continues unabated, with a roast chicken carcass (and numerous plastic wrappers) found in a Nisa shopping bag off the South Island just yesterday. A known individual from the Rhosfach area of Llangolman (surname Nicholas) is being investigated in connection with these crimes, but until hard evidence is recorded, no reprisals will be taken.
Imports remain the chief source of sustenance for Landskerians, and the recent destruction of numerous blackcurrant bushes to make way for a new shed will only exacerbate the problem of the Landskerian food deficit.
Invasive species: Japanese knotweed is stable. Himalayan balsam is rife. Hogweed is also problematic. However, a fourth species has been added to the list of Floral Enemies of Landskeria: North American snowberry. Snoweberry, it has been decided, is far more of a threat to the Landskerian way of life than any of the others. A report is being drawn up as we speak/type.
Industry Secretary’s report from the Office of Industry and Energy (Factory Office)
Hydropower remains a priority, but also remains a distant dream. The fifteen-year forecast has been hinted as possible by an extra-Landskerian consultant, but no formal advice has been received by the office as yet, despite promises to that effect; so no plans can be made. Budgetary constraints remain, but the proposed sale of the title of Old Landskeria (perhaps even to be sought as early as this year) puts a renewed focus on this project, such that advice might have to be sought from an alternative source. Until such time as New Landskeria is officially retitled Landskeria, much of the office’s effort remains concerned with Old Landskeria, AKA Landskeria, and thus our new enterprises remain hamstrung. Meanwhile our energy supplier is rebranding, and we aren’t sure whether we ought to care or not. Our chief sources of energy remain as oil (heating, cooking), wood (heating), and electricity (everything else). Only wood is currently produced here in Landskeria, and it has not been proven to be sustainable in the long term.
Transport Secretary’s report for Fleet (Transport Office)
Landskeria’s two cars remain functional. As does our space-hopper. Over summer we have also procured a small drone – ostensibly to assist with mapping, though this has proven difficult so far – and a new child’s bike; that is a new bike for a child, not a bike for a new child. The bike is large, and causes much consternation, but we’re assured it will grow into itself. A non-automated pullable cart was also procured prior to a trip to Larmertree Festival, though it has proven unstable for traversing much of the Landskerian terrain, and is thus shunned in favour of wheelbarrows for most domestic freight.
Home Secretary’s report from the Office of Domiciles and Citizenship (Home Office)
Much of the summer was wasted in the context of this office’s priorities; the drive remains bumpy and the Shop remains unconverted. I did reroof the chicken house in spring, which looked a lot more impressive in real life than it sounds when I write it here. Cartography has barely advanced since the first full assessment of the lands in autumn of 2017. The Landskerian national anthem remains the only complete text written in the state language, and spoken Landskerian is a sadly neglected aspect of our cultural effort. We are in talks with a third party about digitising the Landskerian alphabet for use on future cultural projects, but costs and scope remain unclear at this stage.
I have begun clearing the foliage around the carpark, with a view to expanding it; and I have also entirely cleared the walled garden area immediately south of Cwmisaf’s House with a view to erecting a shed there next year.
Discussions have also begun as to whether December 1 remains an appropriate National Day for Landskeria, since its significance only relates to the Declaration of Independence pertaining to the territory of Old Landskeria, which is no longer inhabited by Landskerians.
Children’s Secretary’s report from the House of Tomorrow (Second Chamber)
The House of Tomorrow is the only office currently not under my direct jurisdiction as Joint First Minister. Powers were awarded to the chamber with the understanding that it would function as an office; however, since none of the offices have been functioning very well of late, the children have followed suit, and thus the House of Tomorrow remains at loggerheads with itself and neither child has nominated the other to serve as Secretary for the six-month period between reports. While this is frustrating, it must be viewed within the prism of priorities of Landskeria as a whole, which is to say that issues like defence, trade, and culture are taking precedence for now, and that no Children’s Secretary is sitting in on the meetings at said offices to learn the ways of government.
Foreign Secretary’s Report from the Embassy (Foreign Office)
Aside from our visit to Larmertree festival in July, most Landskerians spent the weekend in late summer in Hertfordshire, visiting relatives. Relations with the nearby populace of Mynachlogddu remain largely cordial. More ties have been made, and none of those previously made have been severed. Some minor territorial and access disputes are ongoing, but none are expected to boil over into full-blown conflict. Efforts have been made to maintain the public footpath, allowing safe passage through Landskeria to other territories belonging to the Greater Cwmisaf historical region.
We were rewarded for our assistance in erecting a polytunnel in Hebron in spring with a food parcel this summer. Our own harvest has been pitiful, frankly, consisting only of meagre berry fruits, most of which were eaten by dogs or chickens.
The digital publication of our History of Cwmisaf prompted a welcome visit from a neighbour who contributed numerous additional details to the narrative, especially pertaining to the period in the mid-twentieth century. I will be hoping to attend an advertised cultural outreach event called “Ling-di-long” at Bethel chapel vestry in the village of Mynachlogddu on Saturday, should timetables allow; I also have been invited to attend a poetry competition prizegiving event in London on the following day, where my long poem about rural life (entitled “Tractors Turning”) has been shortlisted along with 19 others. Both of these events ought to involve networking opportunities, and the potential to secure important trade deals and non-aggression pacts.
Victoria has begun attending a book-club up the road, and swimming regularly in Crymych. The children have ceased their gymnastics classes in Haverfordwest, but their swimming classes have begun again for Autumn term (as has school, obviously), and Fury has started going to dance classes.
Lord Commander’s Report on the Arsenal (Defence Office)
We maintain a pacifist policy, and will continue to do so unless provoked. Other than our drone, which remains an instrument of cartography, with – so far as I can tell – no mounted armaments to speak of, we possess nothing even vaguely resembling a weapon of war at this time. We have two semi-aggressive cockerels, and one semi-aggressive Pomeranian, but no tanks. I also found half a gun in the river, which I have identified as an 1890 Winchester second model “takedown” type. But its shooting days are over, and it belongs in a museum. We are contacting Winchester to confirm our suspicions as to its origin.
Health Secretary’s Report From the Hospital (Health Office)
We still haven’t registered with the doctor’s in Crymych. I stubbed my toe on our uneven slate floor yesterday and sliced a large piece out of it. I can now hardly walk. I also have a wart on my finger which I suspect to be cancerous. Burning it off with Bazooka seems to be taking an age, but it’s being kept in check at least. I whacked my knee with a chainsaw last week (fortunately before turning it on) so I have a sort of double limp by this point. Victoria whacked her head on the lintel of the chicken house door (which is actually a foot higher since I rebuilt the roof of the building!) and she was consequently sick several times and had to lie down. The kids seem more-or-less fine.
Chief Justice’s Report from the Jury of Landskeria (Law Office)
Aside from the aforementioned flytipping, which matter has been passed to the office wherein it was raised for mention in this report, crime does not exist in Landskeria. At least, none that we know of. The Jury has thus remained inactive in the interim between this report and the last.
This was the Landskerian Autumn Report 2018.
The weather is mildly stormy. The environment is relaxed. The economy is endangered.
All glory to the Republic. Doubt over all.
Joint First Minister and Acting Supreme Overlord A Velky
This post offers a potted history of our 18th century farmhouse, which is situated on the long-term site of a watermill (and probably an older post-medieval settlement) on a former monastic grange in the Preseli region of rural Pembrokeshire, in what is now the community of Mynachlogddu: an obscure corner of a landscape rich with prehistoric remains, stretching back into antiquity.
I am thankful to the writers and editors of the most useful of my scant sources, especially the following three books:
O’r Witwg I’r Wern / Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows—edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)
Mynachlog-ddu: A historical survey of the past thousand years—E. T. Lewis (1969)
The History of St. Dogmaels Abbey: Together With Her Cells, Pill, Caldey, and Glascareg, and the Mother Abbey of Tiron—Emily Pritchard (1907)
I also made good use of the website findmypast.co.uk: the current monetizers of the UK government’s census-based data archive; who offer a free trial period, but who charge exorbitantly for any further access to our shared national heritage/birthright. Google was also useful to me, as no doubt I was to it. And numerous local people, neighbours and relatives of previous inhabitants have, following my initial posting, been kind enough to get in touch and offer their contributions too. I am especially thankful to them.
This post will be edited and expanded at such times as information is corrected or new information is made available, when I have time to dedicate.
Cwmisaf, Mynachlogddu: a History
Pre-History: Before 1795
1. The Southern Stony Shore
“A small intrusion of coarse-grained, decomposed dolerite is exposed near Cwm Isaf Factory. When fresh, it is blue-green in colour, but is usually ironstained to a deep brown colour. It is usually so soft that it has been extensively used for making stone troughs which have been excavated from blocks of this dolerite. It is known locally as “Careg Nadd” (The sculptor’s stone).” — from ‘The Geology of the Prescelly Hills and Adjoining Areas in North Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire’ by William David Evans, MSc. (1940)
The rocks are the oldest aspect of the landscape at Cwmisaf, and most have been exposed either by glacial impact, or by the force of the river now called Afon Wern. In centuries past this stream was variously referred to as Clydach Australis, Combkaro, or Cwmcerwyn; Wern is a farm halfway between the river’s source and the point at the southwestern corner of the parish where it joins the Cleddau Ddu. The word can mean marsh, or alder tree. Cwmcerwyn (spelled a thousand ways in old manuscripts) was one of the oldest settlements in the northwest of the parish.
There is a small quarry behind the house, reputedly used to extract stones for the building of both the house and the 20th-century woollen factory; this quarry might also date to “Pre-History”; but prehistory being what it is, we have no way of knowing. There are a few megaliths scattered about, within and without the modern borders of Cwmisaf; but none look like they were (at least in their current situations) deliberately positioned by human hands.
One notable menhir leans against a partially embedded and immovable-looking boulder on the Llangolman bank of the Wern near the old mill-race for Pont Hywel, just southwest of Cwmisaf. Another classic pointy-shaped longstone (over 6′ in length) lies in the tailrace of the Cwmisaf leat. Others are half-obscured in walls on the lane leading down from the road, or in the walls and boundaries of the nearby church. There are two large, wide megaliths (one by the car-park and one at the corner of the factory) that could be the caps of forgotten or collapsed burial chambers; but could just as easily be bedrock never yet influenced by human activity.
Beside the river, an arrangement of boulders we refer to as “The Passage Tomb” (but which probably are no such thing) might more feasibly have been used as an animal pen or else contrived as a modern recreation of a Neolithic arrangement. About half of the rocks are small enough that they might have been pulled into place by one or two horses. At least one looks far too large to have been moved without machinery; but then so do most of the rocks in the ancient cromlechs and circles across Wales. After living here for a few years, I arranged a small circle of eleven rocks on the lawn, as a tribute of sorts to the stone circle up the road: Gors Fawr. (I’ve called it Gors Fach: fawr and fach being mutated Welsh adjectives meaning large and small (respectively) and “gors” signifying a bog or uncultivated land.)
None of the stones at Cwmisaf are scheduled as an ancient monument, nor are they likely ever to be.
The nearest scheduled ancient monument is the well-known Gorsfawr stone circle mentioned above; formerly called Trallwyn, it is situated about a mile north on the bog whose peripheral waters form a stream which drains into Afon Wern. This circle is thought to have been arranged 5000 years ago, either as a meeting place or a burial site. (More likely the former.) If there was another, closer, prominent pagan site—perhaps on the location of St Dogmaels church, overlooking Cwmisaf—no evidence of it remains. The suitability of the area around Cwmisaf for the construction of several farmhouses, a church, a bridge, and a mill with a water-wheel, suggests it was probably one of the original (i.e. early medieval) settlements in the wider area; although there remains no evidence of permanent habitation near Cwmisaf in the bronze- or iron-age eras of the closest hillforts of Foel Drygarn, Bank Ddu, and Castell Blaenllechog in neighbouring Llangolman parish.
In terms of our village or parish, our little junction on the east bank of Afon Wern wasMynachlogddu on maps as recently as 120 years ago; though nowadays the signs place the village a couple of miles to the north, where the vast majority of new houses have been built in the past century, at the geographical centre of the parish.
“The bridge existed in 1598” we are told by the Sense of Place leaflets handed out to tourists. They cite no source for this claim, but William Kipp’s 1607 version of George Owen of Henllys‘s 1602 map of Pembrokeshire indicates a bridge over Afon Wern in its (approximate) current location; and E. T. Lewis writes that one of Cemais‘s 28 recorded bridges in that year (1598) was indeed Pont Mynachlogddu*, then called “Pontymanachlogddy y awrch super clidach Australis”—this being the case according to the aforementioned Elizabethan writer, Lord of Cemais, and appreciator of Irish whiskey, George Owen of Henllys.
The village on the Kipp map (pictured) is called something like “Menaghloggdhy” and Afon Wern is called “Clyddach Flu”. That first word seems to have fallen out of use in Welsh, but is similar to the Goidelic Celtic “cladach” meaning “stony shore”; the latter might well be an abbreviation as I cannot translate it; but it appears consistently alongside rivers all across the map, so we can draw obvious conclusions from that. I have seen a version of this map which was labelled as Owen’s original where Pont Hywel (crossing below the confluence of Wern, Cleddau and Glandy) is represented, and Pont Mynachlogddu is not; the opposite of what has happened here. Pont Hywel is generally thought to be older, but both are naturally suitable crossing places, and were thus likely to have been in use before the earliest preserved record indicates. The river-island belonging to Cwmisaf, which Pont Mynachlogddu uses to straddle the two main branches of the Wern (not including the leat), makes this an obvious location for a crossing. Even without the bridge, a low-flowing river would allow livestock to be driven across more easily than any spot to the immediate north or south, where the river is considerably deeper and sometimes faster-flowing. I (in my finite wisdom as a non-expert on the history of bridges) would think some form of constructed crossing was here long before the 1500s; even if it were just made of felled tree-trunks.
In 1081, at the time that Welsh myths were gradually overlapping with Welsh history, the Battle of Mynydd Carn took place somewhere in the county of Pemrbokeshire. Talfynydd and Carn Menyn (Mynachlogddu’s northernmost points, stretching into the Preseli Mountains) have been cited as the likely site by some historians; though others favour Templeton, south of Narberth.
If a bridge in this area was used by soldiers heading north to battle, to help decide the fate of the embattled Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Deheubarth, it might well have been Pont Mynachlogddu or Pont Hywel—or even both if they got confused. Trahaearn ap Caradog’s Norman arbalisters might have set off from their base camps in the south of the county and arrived late, thus ensuring Gwynedd’s defeat. They probably didn’t, but if they—or indeed anyone else—did cross Afon Wern over the land that is now Cwmisaf during the year 1081, we cannot know whether a smoking chimney, or a turning water-wheel, or indeed a humble Celtic Christian chapel, clas, or hermitage, might have been visible among the foliage of the riverbank.
E. T. Lewis discusses the likelihood of a monastery having been located in the village because of its name: Mynach-log-ddu; approximately translating as “Place of the Black Monks”. Many I’ve spoken to talk of an oral tradition that there was a monastery many, many years ago, but that no trace remains of it. Lewis concluded that the village name was likelier to indicate land pertainingto a monastery. Now, we know very well that Mynachlogddu once belonged to the Tironensian Abbey at St Dogmaels (more on that to come) but E. T. Lewis says there’s an outside chance the land might have previously been associated with a “clas”; a Celtic Christian monastery pre-dating the Norman Conquest—perhaps located at Pentreglas or Fronlas in the southeast of the parish; whose names are more ordinarily supposed to relate to the Welsh word “glas”, meaning “blue”; which can also mean verdant (i.e. green: somewhat confusingly for English-speakers). The notion that the village name related to St Dogmaels’ “black monks” has always struck me as problematic, because although Benedictine monks wore black, Tironensian monks (who were the order at St Dogmaels abbey, and therefore presumably those seen in its outlying cells or chapels) wore grey: at least according to Wikipedia. For this reason, and because I like a mystery, I still think the village name might (in some form ) pre-date the founding of the Tironensian abbey in St Dogmaels.
Village-name diversions aside, Cwmisaf’s “Pre-History” truly begins with the history of Mynachlogddu’s parish church; which is in itself unfortunately murky, and in turn begins with the history of the aforementioned parent abbey at St Dogmaels—the first daughter abbey of the Grey Monks of St Bernard of Tiron. It was probably some of those monks who referred to Afon Wern as “Clydach Australis”, the name George Owen used centuries later, employing the Latin suffix (meaning “southern”) either to differentiate the river from several other Clydachs in the Preseli region, or to demark the southern border of the land gifted to the Tironensian monks by the abbey’s founder: the Anglo-Norman Lord of Cemais.
2. For Saint Bernard and Saint Dogmael
“Robert Fitzmartin approached Bernard of Tiron and reserved from him a group of twelve [monks] under an abbot, Fulchard; these he settled in West Wales on the banks of the Teifi near Cardigan and constructed for them an abbey that became known as St Dogmael’s.” — from ‘The History of St. Dogmaels’ by Emily Pritchard, 1907
Robert fitz Martin was the West English son of a Norman knight (called Martin de Tours) who came to England with William I during the Conquest. He supported Henry I in his military campaigns in Wales, and became the first Lord of Cemais; giving him jurisdiction over the central northern cantref of what was to become Pembrokeshire—the Anglo-Norman administrative division of an increasingly multilingual and multiethnic (and increasingly divided) Celto-Germanic region of Wales.
The land around Pembroke in the south became largely English-speaking, populated by Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Normans, some Norsemen, Welsh, Irish, and Flemings; while Cemais remained Welsh-speaking and was populated mostly by indigenous Welsh, but with an Anglo-Norman ruling class—and with significant periodical communities of Irish; notably (in Mynachlogddu) in Cwmcerwyn, or Cwm Garw, according to George Owen, writing in the early 1600s.
Although the St Dogmaels monks came from France initially (presumably thus speaking Latin and French or possibly Breton) novices were soon recruited locally from North Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. The abbey took its name from Dogmael or Dogfael, a 6th-century Welsh saint. Reputedly the cousin of St David—Wales’s patron saint—little else is known about Dogmael except that he requested his followers bathe daily in the Teifi river, whatever the weather—which sounds unpleasant to me. The order at the abbey followed the teachings of the similarly hard-line Bernard of Tiron, a Benedictine purist who founded his own religious community in rural France after becoming disillusioned with the luxurious standard of living enjoyed by established French monasteries. One hopes he might have approved of the new abbey’s location, at least. (And the standard of living at St Dogmaels Abbey would not be accused of equating to luxury for a good while yet.)
St Dogmaels was the only Tironensian abbey in Wales (and there would be none in England). It’s believed that Fitzmartin chose the site deliberately because he thought it was the location of a former Celtic Christian “clas” which was known to have been raided and destroyed by Danish vikings in 987 AD. Perhaps the dedication, as well as the location, was borrowed from the previous holy order; but even the first abbey would have been operational centuries after St Dogmael’s death.
Once the “new” abbey was up and running, gifts flowed in. In 1118, Robert generously granted Mynachlogddu to the Tironensians. The grange at that time comprised 5 carucates, and two or possibly three chapels. One was on the southern slopes of Foel Cwmcerwyn in the north of the parish. One may have been on the southern slopes of Foel Dyrch in the east; the earliest description of the land traces the entirety of Wern (Comb Karo) from north (where it abutted the land of Hubert de Vaux) to south, then up the Cleddau (Cledi), to Glandy (unnamed) and along its path, up onto the summit of Crugau Dwy until it met again the land of the aofrementioned knight – forming the exact boundaries of the parish still recorded on maps today. The land described belonged to a knight called Alen, whose service was a part of the gift to the monks. These details, quoted by Pritchard, are from a charter of Edward III, but comprise a confirmation of an earlier charter by Henry I.
What later became the parish church, still situated by Cwmisaf, was also likely to have been a chapel or a monastic cell of some kind before it served as a place of public worship; but no written record indicates its genesis, so the details remain frustratingly elusive. E. T. Lewis speculates it may have been a 14th century oratory (a sort of private chapel) built by the abbot of St Dogmaels long after the abbey acquired the land. Of the other three chapels recorded in the area prior to the Reformation (identified by E. T. Lewis as Capel Cawey, Capel Bach Cwmgarw, and Capel Silin Cwmcerwyn) only scant ruins remain.
The centuries following the founding of the abbey in St Dogmaels saw much conflict in Pembrokeshire, including numerous attempts by the Welsh to take back control of Cemais (and the rest of the region) from the Norman Lords. References to Mynachlogddu are few. In the late 1200s King Edward I refers to the “Manor of St Dogmael” (a term synonymous for or at least including Nigra Grangia) in a letter to Burgo de Neville, his “Justicia” in West Wales, in the context of making sure the revenues from reclaimed lands ended up going to the rightful(!) people. Gerald of Wales described the “rivers Cledheu” in his Descriptio Cambriae (1193) as rising in the Preselau; but alas he began his description of the Eastern branch (Y Cleddau Ddu) at “Lahaden”, about 8 miles downriver of Afon Wern. Gerald travelled through Cemais in 1188 with Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, gathering support for the Third Crusade, and picking up strange tales about man-eating toads, &c. He even spent the night in St Dogmaels Abbey on his last day in Pembrokeshire (where he was “handsomely entertained” by Prince Rhys); but alas there is no record of him ever visiting Mynachlogddu.
Amusingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the first written detailss of the land around Cwmisaf come not from a scholar, nor from a travel writer, but from an audit of church land conducted remotely—from the Holy See in Rome—for the purpose of raising money for a tenth crusade against the Saracens in the Holy Land, which never really materialized. The references occur in the “Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae Auctoritate” ordered by Pope Nicholas IV and dating to 1291. This document (in translation, courtesy of Emily Pritchard) mentions Mynachlogddu explicitly (and perhaps the land at Cwmisaf, implicitly) for the first time. Although the exact term used there is “Capella de Nigra Grangia”, Pritchard translates it as follows:
“The Abbot of St. Dogmaels hath the town of St. Dogmael with its appurtenances; namely Crugau Gryffydd Mynachlog Ddu five carucates of land with rents of three mills for grinding and one fulling mill.”
3. Dissolution and Mutability
It’s unclear whether the dedication of Mynachlogddu’s parish church to St Dogmael has any significant bearing either to the saint himself having ties to the immediate area, or (which seems likelier) to the church (or chapel, as it was) enjoying a special relationship with its parent abbey that was not enjoyed by its many other holdings around Cemais—or farther afield in Pembrokeshire, Ireland and Devon. Dogmael is thought to have lived and died in the 6th century, as previously mentioned, and is presumed to have been mostly active in North Pembrokeshire. But whether Robert Fitzmartin gifted Mynachlogddu to his new abbey because of a known connection between the two, or between the land and the abbey destroyed by the Danes a century earlier, or simply because the farmland in this peripheral part of his cantref was comparatively poor, we can but guess.
For several hundred years the scattered community that made up Mynachlogddu (variously recorded as the Manor of St Dogmaels, Nigra Grangia, Manoglokdewe, Menecregh the Black Grange, and many things between) was the property of the Abbey, and thus only recorded in their records, none of which are known to have survived. George Owen of Henllys (writing in the early 1600s) says that the inhabitants of Mynachlogddu “untyll of late years within the memory of men now living … did christen and burye in the parishes adjoininge”; so, although like most medieval churches, St Dogmaels in Mynachlogddu belonged to the Catholic faith prior to the Dissolution, it seems its life as a parish church might only have begun with the advent of Anglicanism.
The first whisperings of a name connected to a building, or to a piece of land, between the church and the river, are provided to us as a direct result of Henry VIII and his frustration with the Catholic Church and/or his own reproductive powers:
“And of viij viij rent of a tenement in the township aforesaid called Maenochlog ddu y tharch so demised to Howell ap Thomas ap Owen … And of xvj rent of ij tenements with appurts called Lounder monoglolc dwg in the hands of Ludovic ap Jevan by indenture sealed with the convent seal given the xth October the 27th year of the reign of King Henry the 8th.”
The above barely legible sample from “Rents of assize, Manoglokdew” as reproduced by Emily Pritchard was a tiny fragment of a mass administrative harvesting of ecclesiastical financial data by the state of the day. “Lounder” is instantly recognizable as “Llandre”; the name of both the upper and lower (uchaf and isaf) farms on the road heading north from the church. The other tenement mentioned (Maenochlog ddu y tharch) is said by E. T. Lewis to be synonymous with Cwmisaf—and also with “Manoglodye y llothie”, a tenement mentioned in a “bargain and sale of lands” document held in the Noyadd Trefawr Estate Records and dated 75 years later (1611).
The former claim is partly explained by Pritchard’s own footnote in which she informs the reader (albeit without showing her reasoning) that “tharch” in this context means “ddechrau”—i.e. start, or beginning. Cwmisaf is on the border of the parish, and thus, arguably at the beginning—provided that you happen to be coming from Llangolman. If you were coming from Eglwyswen or Cilymaenllwyd, it would be at the end, or “y gorffen”/”y diwedd”. Having said that, it is also at the location of the church, so perhaps has a claim to being the “beginning” of the parish in a chronological or even in a spiritual sense. “Llothie” I’m even less clear on; either in terms of what it means**, or why E. T. Lewis decided that it meant Cwmisaf (and was thus synonymous with “… y Tharch”). Alas, the Noyadd Trefawr Estate Records document which contains the reference is safely under lock and key at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, and they have thus far fiercely resisted my attempts to pay them £10 for a scanned copy of it.
Assuming, as seems reasonable, that these two historians more-or-less knew what they were talking about, the above tells us that there was a distinct property (probably a farmhouse; specifically a Tudor monastery farm) on the current location of Cwmisaf at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries—when the chapel (as it was then) and its “houses, buildings, tithes and sheaves” were leased by the crown in 1537 to Morgan John of Llangadock. It also tells us that the property had a recognizably different name only 75 years later. And yet another name 164 years after that, by the time it had become an irrefutably identifiable historical location. The name “Cwmisaf” meaning “lower valley” clearly identifies our land in relation to the rest of Mynachlogddu; or the Nigra Grangia, as it was. The house and its associated fields are situated at the lowest point in the parish, where the river that is now called Afon Wern flows south rapidly over rough rocks, down toward the Eastern Cleddau, or Cleddau Ddu. The fields south of the house (which are still legally accessible via an unmanaged public footpath) were once part of “Cwmisaf” which was in turn (before being so named) part of the Manor of St Dogmaels.
Unless “llothie” is an extinct Welsh word for “cloth”, “weaving”, or “fulling”, no evidence exists of the presence of mechanized industry at Cwmisaf during the “Pre-History” period. It’s a perfect location for a water-wheel, as later centuries proved; the voluminous, fast-flowing Wern provides power for most of the year, and the naturally formed river-islands did half the work of digging out a mill-race or a leat long before anyone ever had the idea. A mill-pond would certainly not be required; although I have very recently discovered the remains of some kind of concrete weir several hundred metres upriver; probably dating back no more than a hundred years or so.
There might feasibly have been a corn mill here once; there were, after all, three of them to be found in the parish at the time of the Taxatio. Likelier yet is that this was then (as it was later) the location of Mynachlogddu’s fulling mill, to process the material rewards of the monastic grange’s many sheep farms. Whatever the truth of the matter, we can be sure nobody had the time or inclination to write it all down. Or that if they did, the text does not survive.
My own potted theory about the names Mynachlogddu y Tharch, and Mynachlogddu y Llothie is that the Cwmisaf farm was once synonymous with the word “Mynachlogddu” and only became gradually qualified as “y [something]” as the scattered farmsteads to the northeast gradually became recognizable as a community of sorts in late medieval times, and thus the name “Mynachlogddu” expanded in scope to embrace a wider area. Many villages in rural areas (West Wales included) are synonymous with their oldest or central farm dwelling; this is more easily recognizable in newer villages whose progenitive farm houses often share the names of baptist chapels; or in the English-speaking communities where almost every “-ton” village has a house called “-ton Farm”.
So perhaps Cwmisaf only acquired its new name (first seen on the census records in the 1800s) once the emphasis of the village had gradually shifted toward the northeast of the parish, away from its origins at the church (once an oratory for the grey-robed Tironesian abbot of St Dogmaels, or maybe even a clas or a hermitage housing one or more black-robed Celtic Christian monks).
The lands in the area changed hands many times over the centuries after the Dissolution. The deeds were often traded between men from London, while most of the tenants who farmed the land probably came from the same local stock who lived here during the Abbey’s tenure. In 1737 the bridge was repaired, but other than that, the next few hundred years were quiet ones from the perspective of local history.
The 1660 “Monachlogddy Hearth Tax”, however, does provide us with one name notable for appearing alongside a professional occupation which would become synonymous with Cwmisaf in later years: David John, weaver.
Modern Times: 1795-2017
1. The Coming of Cwmisaf
A woodworm-riddled beam in the loft still bears the date “1795” along with some initials, which are impossible to connect to a name. If it wasn’t inscribed in that year, it certainly looks like it could have been. And if any other part of the house which now stands pre-dates this, there is nothing to say so.
Maybe the lower part of the house was around for a few hundred years before the second storey was added. Maybe one of the dilapidated stone sheds in the garden was the original farmhouse—Y Tharche, or Y Llothie.
What we can be sure of is that a sizeable chunk of the valley’s east side was hacked into (presumably over quite a long period of time) and a house was built in the recess, accessible by a similarly gouged-out track, which is narrow, but mercifully short by local standards. There is what looks like a holloway down by the river, leading from a ruined milking parlour with relatively modern metal remnants toward the sloped, boggy-edged fields to the south of Cwmisaf. There are some walls which we are told by locals once belonged to the old mill building that was pulled down in the mid-twentieth century. And there is the leat, which still flows under Pont Mynachlogddu, down under the drive, and out onto the rusty water-wheel, which has not turned for over half a century.
It’s worth noting that the surviving house at Cwmisaf was (apparently) erected the year the baptist chapel at Bethel opened its doors to nonconformist worshippers, several miles to the north. It’s entirely possible, therefore, that the residents of Cwmisaf followed the majority of the Welsh-speaking populace of the area in turning their back on the Anglican St Dogmaels church in favour of the Welsh-language sermons at Bethel.
The next chapter of Cwmisaf’s history is mostly provided by a combination of snippets from travel writing, and census data; the latter gathered for a century (approximately) from 1841-1939. The following paragraph about Mynachlogddu is from ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Wales’ by Samuel Lewis (1839):
“There are two slate-quarries, two mills, and a small woollen manufactory. The Eastern Cleddy river has its source here, and is joined at the extremity of the parish by two brooks named Glandy and Wern. The living is a curacy, endowed with £1000 royal bounty; present net income, £180; patron, Lord Milford: the tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £52. 10., payable to the curate. The church, dedicated to St. Dogmael, and situated at the extremity of the parish, was once connected with a monastery, and is capable of containing 2000 persons, but without seats: it is not remarkable for any architectural details, and has been left in a very neglected state.”
2000 people in the church?! Surely this is meant to be 200. That aside, the woollen manufactory must be at Cwmisaf, and must be the old mill building. There is no indication of how long it had been there at the time, but we must be thankful to Mr Lewis for this snapshot which provides the earliest conclusive proof (in conjunction with the maps and censuses) of the presence of a mill at Cwmisaf; and while we still frequently refer to the more modern building as a “mill” I’m not certain any actual milling took place in either building, and local maps mostly refer to the building adjacent to Cwmisaf’s rusty water-wheel as a “factory”, as seems common in this area.
The 1841 census, taken just a few years after the above was published, might tell us who was working the woollen manufactory when Lewis compiled his book; but certainly not who built Cwmisaf, or first lived here in 1795. One John John (farmer and clothier, originally from Cilymaenllwyd, just over the border in Carmarthenshire) was master of the house (entered into the register as “Cwmisha”), and living with his wife Martha (both aged 30, and thus not born when the house was built) and their one-year-old daughter Hannah (written as “Hana”). Also entered onto the census at the address was a William Roblin (clothier, 30), Stephen Prethroe (spinner, 30), Ana John ([?], 20) and Moris John (wool carder, 15); the latter two likely being children, if not nephews/nieces.
E. T. Lewis says John John was at Cwmisaf in 1820; but this would have made him only ten years old. He also says a James John was there in the 1870s as a fuller. This does not agree with my research, and I can only conclude he got the names the wrong way around, and perhaps John John inherited the farm and factory businesses from his father James John? As for fulling; it’s probable that both cloth-making and fulling were undertaken at Cwmisaf; but it’s the former than tends to be listed on the censuses—perhaps because it sounds more respectable.
The “Monachlogddu” tithe map (dated 1848) calls the building at Cwmisaf a “Tucking Mill” (tucking being synonymous with fulling) and lists the names of the fields which were farmed, but not actually owned, it turns out, by John John; those amounting to some 15 acres. The owner was either “James Reverend James” or “Jones Reverend James” (or both if it’s the same person?) who also let nearby land (mostly on either side of the Pont yr Haiarn [Iron Bridge] Road to David Thomas of Llandre Isaf. We can assume this vicar lived in the Vicarage, as they tended to. Old maps indicate this used to be on the patch of land now occupied by Parc y Banc, just up the road from Cwmisaf. The “Trellan” vicarage father east, toward Tynewydd, was not present on the 1888 ordnance survey map, and has the look of a Victorian building.
The fields occupied by John John, immediately surrounding the mill and stretching south along The Wern as far as the Cleddau Ddu, were listed as follows:
Tucking Mill & Lands 272: Burgage [A medieval term for a streetside manorial field enclosure] (pasture) 274: Homestead 275: “ 276: Fron ucha [Upper hillside] – arable 283: Park canol [Central field] – pasture 284: Park y bank*** [Bank field] – arable 285: Park y berth [Bush field] – arable 286: Waun [Marsh/Moor] – pasture 287: Park issa [Lower field] – pasture
As an aside, the Rebecca Riots kicked off in 1839, instigating a trend spreading from the Preselis eastward of common Welsh folk donning women’s clothing and destroying toll-gates. These attacks followed preliminary meetings at Glynsaithmaen—just a few miles upriver from Cwmisaf, but on the other side of the Wern, and thus in Llangolman parish. 28-year-old John John might have been present at those meetings alongside Mynachlogddu’s own Twm Carnabwth; then again, he might have been too busy grieving for his father James John, or too busy working in his woollen factory/tucking mill—or simply too prosperous to be driven to such desperate acts.
Anyhow, no other descriptive or narrative sources relating to Cwmisaf come our way for half a century, but the regular censuses provide snapshots of the house and business through time. The first (1851) Ordnance Survey map of the area, though not as detailed as future editions, clearly shows the “Woollen Factory” beside Afon Wern, and the village/parish name “Mynachlogddu” directly above the church. Plas-y-Meibion, the big house up the road, had probably only relatively recently appeared, but its drive then came out toward Llangolman on the Pont Hywel road. (Nowadays it comes out on the Mynachlogddu road, and last time it was up for sale they listed its address as Mynachlogddu; which is a nice idea, but factually incorrect.)
In 1851 (the year the map was published) John John was still at Cwmisaf (or “Cwm Ishaf”) and listed as a “clothier, wool spinner and carder”. Martha was a “wife”, and Hannah (now 11) was a “scholar”—but not at the village school, because it didn’t open till 1903†. The other Johns are gone (died or married or moved away?) and so are Prethroe and Roblin. In their place are Martha Phillip (house servant, 18), John David (wool spinner, 16), and Edward Mathias (wool carder, 13). Thus the population of the house has dropped from 7 to 6; although the population of Mynachlogddu as a whole was by now 502—a high point from which is would fluctuate, but gradually drop to half that number by the 1960s, possibly never to return. At the last census, the population was finally close to reaching those dizzy heights once more; but nowadays the number comprises the “community” of Mynachlogddu and Llangolman, not just the parish itself.
Ten years later, in 1861, the house name is finally spelled “correctly” (i.e. in standardized Welsh) and John John (now 50) is a “Farmer Of 35 Acres Employing One Labourer And One Boy Clothier and one manufactory”. Also recorded at Cwmisaf in 1861: Martha John (Farmers wife, inexplicably now 10 years older than her husband, despite them being the same age as one another 20 years ago), Hannah John (farmer’s daughter, 21), Walter Davies (visitor and wool-weaver, 60), John Lewis (cartman, 21), Mary Davies (servant, 18), David Lewis (hand-loom wool weaver, 16), and Thomas Perkins (apprentice [?], 14). Back up to 7 then—with an 8th squeezed in temporarily.
In 1871, when the house (and maybe also the factory) was nearly 100 years old, John John was entered into the census as the head of the household for the fourth and final time, this time as a “Clothier and Farmer of 50 acres”. Martha was a “Clothier’s wife”, and since John had lost 5 years (he is now 55) and she had gained 12, she was by now 17 years older than the man she used to be the same age as. Being the wife of a farmer/clothier will apparently do that to you. Also listed are Martha James (farm servant), Arthur George (farm servant), Harry Thomas (farm servant), and John Evans (spinner). What’s more, after 30 years (in which John aged 25, and Martha aged 42), William Roblin in back living and working (as a “Clothier) at Cwmisaf. Life has been kind to him, although not as kind as it has been to John; he has aged just 28 years in the past 30, and is now 58. Joking aside, some of this can be put down to a lack of written records, poor memory, censuses being conducted at different times of year, etc. But it does seem quite a significant discrepancy in the case of John and his wife. Maybe she was always older? Or maybe he genuinely forgot how old they both were and had a more favourable opinion of himself? We will probably never know.
Nor do we know whether John² remained a tenant farmer all his life; but his successor at the Cwmisaf factory by 1881 (and there might have been another in the between-census years, but if there was we have no way of knowing) was one Philip Jefferies, 42, originally from Swansea, reporting his trade as “wollon manufactorer” (“cloth” is inserted with an arrow as an afterthought in-between the two words). Sarah Jefferies (46) is the “manufactorer’s wife”, and their home is also home to Sarah’s daughter Martha Morgans (employer with manufactory, 16), and their children in common: Emily Jefferies (scholar, 12), Florence Jefferies (scholar, 10), Margaret Jefferies (4), Phillip Jefferies (3), and Jane Jefferies (1). At the same time one Ivan James was living with his family in one of the two “Bank” cottages next to the church (empty 10 years prior to this census, and to be demolished just 7 years after this date) and his occupation is listed first as “fuller”, which is crossed out and replaced with “clothier (tailor)”; so it sounds like he worked at the factory too. Did the factory still do both fulling and weaving? Probably. But people preferred to be known for the latter. Maybe the latter involved more skill, or was a less-automated process, and thus took more time?
Adjoining Cwmisaf on the other side of Bank on this census are two properties called Sciborwen and Sciborfach. I mention this only because they do not appear near Cwmisaf on other censuses, and I can find no evidence online or in E. T. Lewis’s book of them existing in Mynachlogddu at any point. “Ysgubor” (pronounced almost identically to “scibor”) means barn, so one barn was small (bach), and the other white (wen). They’re hard to find on maps and other censuses, so it seems most likely that they were real barns on the property of Cwmisaf, or Plas y Meibion—or one of the nearby Llandre farms—temporarily made into dwellings for local workers and their families. Anyhow, one of these buildings contained a “wollon weaver” called Daniel Davies in 1881. However small the factory might have been, it seems to have been providing employment for a few locals at this time.
The above map from 1888 shows that St Dogmaels Church is now twice the size, having been extended with a second nave as a result of either an explosion in the size of the congregation or a windfall from an unknown benefactor. The buildings of Cwmisaf are also very clear (south of St Dogmael’s Church), with the village name printed again in the same place, albeit for the last time†*. Cwmisaf’s house is there (below the . in the 522.3) complete with its rear extension (added at some point in the last 100 years), and so is the Shop, adjoining to the south. The alleged Old Mill is directly in front of it (or southwest), and the Pig Sty/Chicken Coop is farther west, as are a couple of other buildings; one of which remains as a dilapidated milking parlour, the other of which (adjoining the smaller sty/coop) is now just a crumbling U-shaped stone wall (but might have once been a rudimentary barn).
After studying this map for the 100th time, it occurred to me that the leat as depicted on here does not correspond to the version of events I’d previously associated with the lay of the land. Perhaps in 1888 the “Old Mill” was not in fact a mill at all, and served as a barn or cowshed. Perhaps the Milking Parlour (as it certainly became later) was the Mill. It certainly looks like it takes the whole flow of the leat (or at least part of it) past its West wall; which fact might explain the deep cut through the land from this point down to the river, which I had previously accounted for by general surface drainage combined with overflow from the Wern during heavy flow. Either the Milking Parlous is the real Old Mill, or part of the natural river flowed that way in the past, and the “leat” of those days was a much shorter one following the last half of its current journey.
From the following description we might surely imagine that the working buildings of Cwmisaf were better able to be viewed from the bridge back then, and thus that fewer mature trees were to be found in the immediate area:
“We approach Monachlogddu, the landscape assumes a thoroughly Welsh appearance. A clear trout-stream, that comes rippling and dancing down the glen from the dark brown ridge of the moorlands, is here put to turn the wheel of a little flannel-mill. In response to our request, the goodman describes in broken English the simple processes of manufacture, and explains the movements of his archaic machinery. Then, after a glance at the lowly parish church, dedicated to St. Dogmael, we bid adieu to the village of the Black Monastery, and take to the road.” — ‘Nooks and Corners of Pembrokeshire’ by H. Thornhill Timmins (1895)
Phillip Jefferies, who put himself down as bilingual on the 1891 census, would have been disappointed to learn that four years later his English was considered “broken” by Mr Timmins; not to mention that his machinery was considered “archaic”. If you read up on manufacturing processes at this time, the “power looms” that were yet to be introduced to Cwmisaf were by now commonplace across much of Britain; but then, based upon the general trends of the woollen trade in Pembrokeshire and the UK/Europe in general, for the majority of its existence, the machinery at Cwmisaf would have been making cloths and blankets primarily for the local populace. So what if it was archaic? It did the job.
As a side note, the first of two digitized archive newspaper articles, dated to 1890, was posted above, just before the 1888 map. This indicates that Mr Jefferies was an attendee at the Anglican St Dogmael’s church, where English would mostly have been spoken; and that he generously provided vegetables for the harvest festival display of that year. The second record (to the right) shows a different side to his character, reporting that he was fined five shillings for being sweary and drunk in Maenclochog. Note though that this was 19 years later when he was about 70 years old, and had not been master of Cwmisaf for at least seven years.
Back to the 1891 census, the second and last that saw Phillip Jefferies as master of Cwmisaf. Phillip and Sarah were still there, with their children Margaret Jefferies, Phillip Jefferies, Jane Jefferies, and Jonathan Jefferies. Florence and Emily were both old enough for their disappearance from the family home to be expected, so we can hope it did not happen under tragic circumstances. Of the aforementioned children, Margaret (14) was old enough to be “knitting stockings” as an occupation, and Phillip Junior (13) was an “apprentice”, while the other two (11 and 9) were scholars (perhaps at Bethel; perhaps at the church; if not, somewhere farther afield). Phillip’s stepdaughter Martha Morgans (now 24) was still living with the couple, and amusingly has her occupation listed as “winner and spinner” on the text entry on findmypast.co.uk, but I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s what it really says:
By the 20th century, the Jefferieses had left Cwmisaf and were spinning and knitting wool in a house on Wallis Street in Fishguard. None of the children they had together were there, but Phillip’s stepdaughter Martha Morgans, 34, was still living with them, and by now had somehow produced a 3-year-old son whom she had named “Phillip J”. Whether or not Philip later returned to work at Cwmisaf, as implied by the above newspaper article concerning his behaviour in Maenclochog, is somewhat unclear.
2. David James’s Factory
In another of those happy coincidences that saw Cwmisaf (the house) being erected the same time as the first baptist chapel opened in the village, the new factory building was to begin operating the same year a permanent primary school was established in Mynachlogddu.
There is a small marble block in the factory building among the detritus of previous occupants’ hobbies (lenses, optics, radio parts, etc.) engraved with the date 1902. Presumably it used to be mounted somewhere within or without; probably on the south-facing central wall, above the double doors, which looks like the only part of the factory’s structure that has been significantly modified since it was built.
You might recall (or you might not) a “David John, weaver” being recorded as living in Mynachlogddu in 1660, courtesy of the Hearth Tax. We don’t know where he lived; but the implication is that wherever he did live, had a hearth. Two and a half centuries later a man with a similar name was to bring Cwmisaf into the future, or at least the present, with the construction of a sizeable two-storey power-loom woollen factory with a 12′ water-wheel. And just on the other side of the leat was a smaller building (formerly either a barn or a fulling mill) which would (according to later maps) be converted into a sawmill.
So, David M James (woollen manufacturer) and wife Maria J James, both 31, were recorded in the 1901 census as living at Cwmisaf with David’s sister Mary (15) and their two children, William (7) and Hannah (6). But E. T. Lewis tells us that James (originally from Lampeter Velfrey) and his wife (from Nevern) acquired the factory back in 1893 when both were very young. Either it was going cheap, or one of them had some money from somewhere. The intervening years were hard on the Jameses, as the graveyard at Bethel chapel in Mynachlogddu testifies; in 1900 they lost two infant children in quick succession: Annie (4) and Dinah (3). Nevertheless, in spite of these tragedies, they accumulated, in time, enough capital to modernize the local woollen business with the construction of a large factory building that would open its doors in 1902 and provide employment and services to the local community for just under half a century. By the time of the final (currently available) 1911 census their son William has changed his name to the Welsh form of Gwilym†** and proudly declares his profession as “Weaving Welsh flannels by powerloom”. Hannah still lives with them too, as does their new child Benjamin Ll James, born shortly after the last census and thus now 9 years old. Both Gwilym and Benjamin wrote their names in the factory building in later years; the latter many times, and his extravagant handwriting can still be seen on the beams in pencil and crayon—most of it quite legible. The writing tends to be in English. Languages were only recorded in the censuses from 1891 onward, and although initially most of the farming families spoke only Welsh, by the early 20th century, the few remaining monoglots in the area tend to be old farmers or infants; strongly suggesting that Welsh was still the language of the home, but that English was creeping in as the language of education and business. Mind you, who knows: perhaps just as now we are encouraged by the authorities to say we speak Welsh even if we know only a handful of words, the reverse might well have been true back then.
Because the census of 1921 isn’t yet available for public consumption, this is where we start relying more heavily on books—particularly the second and third of three I credited at the beginning of this blog-post. David M James, says E. T. Lewis, was a district council representative, and a President of the Pembrokeshire Baptist Association; in addition to a farmer and factory-owner. The early decades of the 20th century seem to have been profitable for the Jameses, and although I’m not yet sure whether all their immediate family survived those turbulent years, they kept Cwmisaf operational until it was sold in 1943 to a Tenby businessman called A. Sweet. After the Jameses sold it, it only lasted five years before closing, and before the land and buildings were acquired by a farmer who grew up in the neighbouring farmhouse: Hughie George James of Llandre Isaf. I had presumed the brevity of Sweet’s tenure was probably down to changes in global textile markets, but a local lady who was alive and working at Llandre Isaf at the time told my wife that Mr Sweet suffered a personal tragedy when his back was broken by a bull; so, presumably unable to farm, he probably sold the place to Mr James shortly thereafter.
Hefin Wyn’s local history collection ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’ provides us with a couple of reminiscences specifically concerning Cwmisaf, both of which are in Welsh, and both of which I will translate short passages from.
The first concerns the factory as seen by a local boy who had moved to the Swansea valleys aged 3, and visited Mynachlogddu in the summer holidays. Unfortunately undated, it can be broadly placed between 1926-1938.
“When my family weren’t working, we lived in Bryncleddau every August. We were free there; as long as we took care not to disturb Mr Campbell who ran Tyrch Quarry. I’d play with little boats, with my friend Ben James, Cwmisaf, in the baptism pool. And we’d catch fish by diverting the water that ran the fulling mill; the fish would be left floppling about in the little pools there. All we had to do then was scoop them out into a bucket.”— from ‘Whilber Rowland Penrhiw’ by the Reverend John Young, from ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern, Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows’ edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)
I’m sure there was no baptism pool at Cwmisaf, and that this refers to the one up near the chapel. But the sentences concerning the catching of fish speak to the complicated system of sluices and overflows that line the leat north of Pont Mynachlogddu; and might also have involved the remaining pools in-between the Milking Parlour (or possibly the True Old Mill) and the outflow of the tail-race from the factory’s leat.
Diverting the water might have been achieved by the operation of some mechanism then, though now it would involve removing armfulls of branches or depositing piles of rocks and moss. And who knows whether any fish might be lured in the process? I saw some small ones (probably bullheads) last autumn but have yet to see evidence of the shoals of migratory sewin and salmon that apparently provided poachers with such tempting fare as recently as the early 20th century.
The reference to “Ben James” initially confused me, as David’s son “Benjamin Ll James” ought to have been 18 years older than John Young, and thus probably too busy to be making paper boats or catching fish with him. But E. T. Lewis lists another “Benjamin L James” as a grandson of David (the son of Gwilym, a local informs me) who must have been of a similar age at that time, and is thus a more likely playmate. John Young eventually became a baptist minister in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire; while young Ben James took the same calling, and was (by 1969) serving in Briton Ferry in the same county.
By far the richest portrait of life at Cwmisaf in any era comes from Ben James’s sister, born Mary M James. I’m told both she and Ben came to live at Cwmisaf with their paternal grandparents after their mother died, leaving Gwilym James with four (I think!) children; too many to raise on his own.
At the outbreak of the Second World War when the 1939 register was compiled, Ben (aged about 19) was perhaps fortuitously “incapacitated by illness”, and Mary (about 22) was an “unpaid household assistant” at Cwmisaf. Mary’s surname in the register has been crossed out in a different colour pen and replaced with “Morris”, and we know from her own recollection (and from the above photograph) that she was married to local man Gruff Morris on August 14, 1941, and that they soon moved to Meriden, Coventry, to work in a factory. We are very lucky to have her short but vivid description of life in this corner of the parish at that time. Much of it concerns social life centred around Bethel chapel and Sunday school, but I’ve included those parts relating more closely to home life; a translated and edited extract from her 2011 recollection (published just two years before her death in Exeter at the age of 96) follows:
“I was brought up in Cwmisaf, just below the church, in Mynachlogddu parish, during the 1920s and ’30s. My family kept a woollen factory, and I still have one of the blankets that was made there on my bed. Though I have lived in Meridien since 1941, I still think of Mynachlogddu as home … My uncle Bill George kept ‘Railway Stores’ in Maenclochog, selling a little of everything edible, for the families and their animals. Because everyone baked their own bread at that time, he also sold a lot of flour. He lived with “Granny Plasdwbl” (Mari George, his mother) in the yard of Allt-y-Gog [down the road from Cwmisaf]. His sister Martha and brother-in-law Ama Owens lived there too.
“During the 1930s, before the Second World War, many ‘gentlemen of the road’ would call at Cwmisaf. (It was no use calling them ‘tramps’.) There was Twm Martha Fach from Maenclochog, and Ben Abergweun … another was Twm ‘Barrels’; he’d call at each house offering to mend umbrellas. But the favourite was Twm Shot from Ceredigion, who ‘walked the road’ in the summer; but went home to his address in Llanybydder, I think, in the winter.
“I’ve a clear memory too of a caravan being parked over the winter at Plas-y-Blodau crossroads, in which Mrs Evans and her children lived. They called everywhere with their basket, begging for hay for their horse and potatoes and vegetables for them. She had two lovely daughters called Annie and Jennie—and a lad too, though I never saw him. Mrs Evans smoked a pipe full of Ringers Shag, and everyone knew which direction she was coming from by the clouds of smoke. She would while away each Saturday night at Glandy Cross Inn … On my wedding day to Griff in Bethel chapel, who should I see in the gallery but Annie and Jenny! They gave me a big rice-pudding bowl as a wedding present; and that was the last time I ever saw them.” — from ‘Y Badell Pwdin Reis’ by May Morris, from ‘O’r Witwg I’r Wern / Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows’ edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)
Just two years after May Morris (as she was later known) left for England, Cwmisaf was sold, and since very little is known of the short, war-time period in which it was owned by A. Sweet, this really seems to be the end of an era for the factory. The modern building remains, and is in pretty good shape. But the smaller sawmill (once a fulling/tucking mill, or a barn) was knocked down at some point in the mid-twentieth century, and only one of its walls still stands.
I know nothing about “Ben John”, the lad pictured in the black-and-white photograph on the Mynachlogddu community website; except that he has a very local-sounding name, and that the proportions of the loft he sits in mark it out as either the older of the two factory buildings—the one no longer with us, which was apparently by this time a sawmill—or the Shop (the shed adjoining the house to the south); it is certainly not the larger factory building that still stands by the leat; nor the milking parlour, which might have been a fulling mill. Still with me? Great!
No one I’ve met in Mynachlogddu is old enough to really remember the factory when it was running; though their parents might have. A note on the Trallwyn Holiday Cottages website provides an insight into the role it played in the community:
“There used to be a mill down by the Church and I remember Roland [Francis] telling me how his family would take the fleeces from the sheep down to the mill…and a few months later bring back shirts and caps and other clothing…so different today!” — Trallwyn Holiday Cottages website: http://www.simplystonecottages.com/historytrallwyn.html, 2014
The following brief excerpt from a mid-century history journal also provides some context:
“Mynachlogddu. Cwm Isaf. Run in conjunction with a thirty acre smallholding. In the 1940s their products—tweed, knitting yarns and flannel—were sold at Fishguard market.” — ‘Pembrokeshire And The Woollen Industry’ by J Geraint Jenkins, from ‘The Pembrokeshire historian’, journal of the Pembrokeshire Local History Society (1959)
The war years did not immediately halt the production of woollen products at the mill (WW2 at least; for WW1 we have less to go on) though the increasingly internationalist world that unfolded thereafter would be the death of the Welsh textile industry. A visiting farmer from Brawdy way told me his uncle Dilwyn James worked at the factory during the war. E. T. Lewis also lists a couple of (unfortunately undated) names associated with the factory in its later years: Brynmor Davies of Rhydwilym (who worked there as a boy), and Amaziah Griffiths of Penrhos (up by Gorsfawr stone circle)—the latter went on to be active in the woollen trade around Pembrokeshire, and I was told by a visitor with a relative who worked in the factory that Amaziah was the manager.
Finally, the graffiti on the beams and crumbling plaster of the factory commemorates some of the folk who worked there (or maybe just visited) in its later years. Gwilym James adds “Esquire” to his signature, dating it March 2, 1910.
Ben[jamin] Ll. James signs his name many times (1914, 1918…), once confusingly on a day of the week that did not fall on the claimed date in that year, and once, perplexingly claiming the year to be 1797.
Some other signaturees include B L James, 1942, (as distinct from B Ll James, usually signing much earlier); Ryta Edwards, Pont y Glasier [Eglwyswrw]; Beryl Morgan; Joan Francis, who “left on July 2”; Eirlys [?]; and George Kirkkan.
Peggy Davies (who often signs with the word “Gate”, presumably placing her as a resident of Gate Farm, Llangolman) is by far the most frequent signaturee. Her only dated entry looks like it says 1947 (the same year as one Ryan John signed) which would be in the latter years of A. Sweet’s ownership. The pencil etchings on the beams by the first generation of James children tend to be earlier than these that are cut into the plaster with compasses. My theory is that most if not all of the latter were probably done after the factory became derelict. As a teenager I spent plenty of time in derelict buildings writing my name on the walls, and I’ve no doubt teenagers did just the same in the decades (and centuries) before Elvis Presley supposedly invented them.
Hughie George James (1910-1982) owned Cwmisaf for twenty years between ’48 and ’68. He was a Mynachlogddu farmer and probably bought the house because it was next-door to where he grew up, and because it came with 30 acres, which perhaps he could add to any he might have inherited from Llandre Isaf. Hughie was no direct relation to the Jameses of Cwmisaf, according to local sources, and I was also told that he had no children. One local resident who remembers Hughie said the Old Mill was still up while he lived at Cwmisaf; maybe still functioning as a sawmill, maybe derelict. Another local (a nephew of his) told me it was Hughie who put in the drainage and electricity, and thus prevented the house from going the way of other rural houses whose glory days were over, and falling into ruin. I was also told Hughie ran the New Mill as a corn mill for a while, and later as a carpentry workshop, while keeping chickens in the ground floor. It also seems very likely that he installed the metal harnesses in the milking parlour (AKA the Older Mill).
The ’48-’53 Ordnance Survey map is not worth including here as it shows no differences from the turn-of-the-century map except one tiny detail: the addition of a small square by the church, signifying the telephone box, which remains but is no longer in use. The shapes of the buildings at Cwmisaf are less distinct than they are in the 1888 map, so we cannot see whether the small extension incorporating the utility room (also where the water and electric come in) and the bathroom was yet there, but it seems likely from what I was told that these were put in during Hughie James’s tenure, and that the next owners raised the roof above to a flat roof to accommodate a complete bathroom.
Hughie James moved to Maenclochog in 1968, selling Cwmisaf to a retired couple from outside the area, and with it:
“such rights of pasturage over a certain piece of undivided land called Gorsfawr containing 385 acres or thereabouts and also over other common land about one mile distant therefrom as has hitherto been held and enjoyed by the owner for the time being of said premises.”
Damiaen Joan van Doorninck was a Dutch WW2 naval officer and POW who escaped Colditz, and—according to a testimony by one of his comrades given to the BBC—used to entertain himself during his captivity by breaking into the German officers’ quarters to use their private lavatories. After the war he commanded a Dutch destroyer called HNLMS Evertsen (D802), previously known as the HMS Scourge (G01) when it was owned by the British. I’m pretty sure he was at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, and quite possibly also involved in the West New Guinea dispute, after the ship was converted to a fast frigate.
Both he and his wife Susan had been married once before. Damiaen married Henriette Sophia Wilhelmina, baroness d’Aulnis de Bourouill, (with whom he would have two daughters) in 1933; and they divorced in 1948. Susan van Doorninck was previously married to Swiss lawyer/diplomat August R. Lindt (apparently a relative of the famous chocolate-maker) as detailed in this blog post about their 1937 travels in the Persian Gulf. I’m not sure when they separated or divorced; but August ended up in New York working for the UN after the war (later marrying a Romanian socialite and would-be art collector), and Susan had moved to the UK by 1948. I am told (by a grandchild of the couple) that Susan and Damiaen had two children together: Adam and Catherine. Adam (then Lindt) was naturalised as a British citizen in Torquay, Devon (where Susan’s father Lionel had died two years previously).
The van Doornincks moved to Cwmisaf together in 1968 (6 years after Damiaen began receiving his pension, according to this Dutch website, and after the ship he had commanded was scrapped). Mr James had made the house attractive to the couple in their advanced years by installing electricity, water, and a complicated surface drainage system that nobody would ever maintain—at least not up to the year when we bought the house. Electricity was also extended to several sheds, and to the old factory building; and while the downstairs of the factory seems like it’s been used as a bit of a rubbish dump down recent decades, the better-kept (and rendered) first floor is littered with old optics, spyglasses, radio parts and electrical devices—I had presumed them to be the tools of Damiaen’s various hobbies, but his granddaughter, who kindly sent me many stories of this era, says many of these also belonged to the couple’s son-in-law, her father, who visited often and rebuilt the demolished Old Mill wall in front of the house. A brief selection from her email follows:
“Damiaen was so regimental/routine. We knew exactly what was happening and when, when we would visit Cwm Isaf. He was also a very loving and kind man. We had nibbles at 6pm every evening. Dinner at 8pm, Saturday would be steak and kidney beans, Grandmother would make a chicken soup for starters and a Lemon syllabub for afters. [Damiaen] oversaw the steak and beans. He had porridge every morning with an inch of salt on top! He watched the news at 7pm and no one could make a sound! It was a B&W portable, with a terrible reception! Being at the bottom of the valley’s didn’t help, he would mumble and swear in Dutch.”
Having battled with the terrible internet since we moved in, I can sympathise with the latter sentiment.
There were stacks of papers found in the mill, but most are well-rotted. There was a lightly annotated 1932 Dutch poetry book called Tuin Van Eros by Jan Engleman. One very short poem has a single word in pencil in the margin: “Klank!” (Apparently a comment on the quality of sound.)
History’s women are generally harder to place than the men, even outside of the difficulties presented by name-changes following marriages. Most tend only to be recorded within the context of their relationships with the men in their lives, so if that’s what I write about here, it’s only because that’s what is readily available. That said, Susan Margaret van Doorninck pops up on Google from time to time in the context of her father’s diaries and the Kipling Society. Her father General Lionel Dunsterville was once tasked with stemming the flow of Bolshevism through the Caucasus, and briefly (in 1918) took the oil-rich city of Baku, today the capital of Azerbaijan, from the Ottomans during the First World War†***. (He published a book about his exploits in 1920.) But long before all this he was the inspiration for the character “Stalky” in Rudyard Kipling’s boarding-school novel “Stalky & Co“. Lionel had also kept a diary throughout his life, which apparently provided invaluable biographical information about Rudyard Kipling, and which Susan later helped the society to compile.
As for Susan’s life before Damiaen, her granddaughter also offered some insight which Google could not:
“Susan had a lot of stories about India … She would also boast about her affairs and exciting life. I believe [she and Damiaen] came back to either Torquay or the Isle of Man. Lionel was an important part of the Isle of man, I don’t remember how. But both of those places were mentioned. Stories that were often repeated, 1) She got bit on the bum by a scorpion, when sitting on a toilet in India. 2) She never liked curry until she was on the ship coming back to England. She’d make my Dad cook her curries when we stayed. Susan was in Switzerland with Lindt when my Grandfather Escaped from Colditz with Fowler and went to neutral ground, Switzerland. The rest, as they say, is history!”
Once they’d moved to Mynachlogddu, Damiaen and Susan lived at Cwmisaf for the rest of their lives; and, as far as I know, these years were less eventful than their lives in the earlier part of the 20th century. (They could hardly have been much more eventful.) A small plaque in St Dogmael’s church commemorates them, and their devotion to the church; though I cannot tell what it used to be attached to, and now it lies loose on a shelf. One neighbour mentioned that she used to go swimming in the river with Susan. A carpenter I met who used to live nearby recalls drinking tea in the now dismantled conservatory (or veranda) at the front of the house, and Hughie’s nephew mentioned that some filmmakers once came to Mynachlogddu to talk to Damiaen about Colditz. Damiaen’s granddaughter recalls that the BBC spent a lot of time with Damiaen.
Damiaen’s life ended on 24 September, 1987, 19 years after he moved to Cwmisaf; and Susan’s ended on 25 March, 1994, six and a half years after her husband passed away, and 26 years after she moved here.
In 1980 a Grant of Easement was drawn up allowing the Welsh Water authority access to the land immediately north of Pont Mynachlogddu to install (and subsequently to maintain) a water pipe. However, this agreement was drawn up between the Authority and the Phillipses at Llandre Uchaf; not the van Doornincks. So it seems highly likely that the parcel of land adjoining the souce of the leat was at some point sold off, along with the rest of Cwmisaf’s former farmland (about 28 acres), either by Hughie James or the Van Doornincks.
What also appears likely to the point of certainty is that the small section north of the river was bought back by the previous owners, John and Margaret McDonald, who bought Cwmisaf in 1995. I met John briefly after we bought the house (I had been sneaking a look around the garden, and he was arriving to read the electricity meter) and he mentioned that he once had plans to get the wheel on the factory building turning again, and gave me advice on how to get water flowing down the leat again.
Perhaps it was him who built the miniature waterwheel I found abandoned among brambles in the area between the Factory and the river? Perhaps it was Damiaen (a naval officer, after all) who deposited the disembodied ship’s foghorn in a rotten tree stump up by the concrete shed? Just a small sample of the many questions I will probably never have an answer to. I gave Mr McDonald my mobile number, but he didn’t give me his, and I didn’t ask for it. When you sell a house, you normally want to turn your back and think of it no more. You certainly don’t want regular phonecalls from the new owners asking how this-and-that works, or why this-and-that is infested with bats, etc.
For many years the McDonalds had been living and working on a farm (with a moo-moo here, etc.) in Lamphey, South Pembrokeshire; so Cwmisaf’s story had been in the hands of the tenants they let it out to. I know some of their names, but not all; and not the exact dates of their comings and goings. Once we start dealing with living people it feels less like history and more like snooping; though there’s probably very little difference. This is probably the right point to bring this very long blog-post to an end. I don’t think I will publish any additional entries in this vein, but I hope to return to this and edit it should new information come to light, or should additions, retractions or corrections be offered or demanded by anyone who stumbles across it.
We bought Cwmisaf in 2017 and I moved us in at the end of August—with the help of my mother, my uncle Michael, and three men from Clunderwen. Meanwhile Victoria was away in Norfolk with the children, her mother, and her sisters, scattering her father’s ashes on a beach in Great Yarmouth.
Who knows how long we will be here? Not forever, certainly; so I hope this text is of some interest to whoever comes next, whether I know them or not.
As a final thought: the legally defined boundaries of what is now registered as Cwmisaf are currently under the jurisdiction of the Landskerian parliament, with the house retaining the name “Cwmisaf” for administrative and ceremonial purposes, but the land as a whole also using the name New Landskeria, and “Landskeria” for short. The Landskerians occupy the land as a stateless micronation, with a view to declaring a republic at such time as legal and administrative powers allow, and thus declaring the whole of Cwmisaf a sovereign microstate. Claims over land previously belonging to Cwmisaf (referred to as Greater Cwmisaf; but crucially not Greater Landskeria) are few at this stage; however there are several contested territories immediately adjoining the boundaries of Landskeria to the south and north, where the trajectory of a barbed wire fence, and the lack of willingness by the council to maintain a road surface (respectively) have conferred a de facto burden of ownership upon the Landskerians, which we will dutifully shoulder. Similarly there are numerous river-islands along the Wern which seem neither to fall naturally into Llangolman nor Mynachlogddu parish; these are being observed closely, and where it seems right in natural-legal terms, the Landskerian parliament will propose subsumption into the Landskerian jurisdiction.
All glory to the republic, doubt over all.
A Velky, 2018.
(Most recently amended or updated: 13/04/2019)
* the bridge is called Pont Mynachlogddu on most maps, but sometimes called Pont Cwmisaf by locals, as there are now many more, smaller bridges closer to the modern centre of the village. It was once, erroneously I suspect, referred to on a 1980s legal document pertaining to the Water Board right of access to a pipe as “Ddolwen Bridge”.
** A few guesses as to what “Llothie” might mean:
1) llo + tŷ = calf + house = a cattle farm; perhaps to distinguish it from the more common sheep farms? 2) lle + tŷ = place + house = a lodge or roadside inn. Feasible but unlikely. 3) [g]lo + tŷ = coal + house = coal house. There was coal-mining in Pembrokeshire in the early 1600s; but not in Mynachlogddu, so they probably wouldn’t have a house full of it, or indeed built out of it. 4) llath + tŷ = rod/beam + house = sawmill. The “a” sound (also the “ə” sound represented in Welsh words by a “y”) is sometimes rendered as an “o” in old spellings. 5) llaeth + tŷ = milk + house = dairy; it’s quite possible it was the only one in the immediate area. 6) lladd + tŷ = abattoir.
None of the above seem better than rough guesses. For my money, 3 is the least likely, then 4 and 6, then 2, then 1; leaving 5 as the least-least likely. (I won’t say “most”.) “Llaethdy” is an actual word for a dairy in this area, and bears as much resemblance to “Llothie” as “Mynachlogddu” does to many of its historical renderings. But this remains a very amateurish stab at etymology. At least a “dairy” does not tie the history of Cwmisaf’s farming down to cows, for whose popularity in this upland area at that time there is no ready recommendation. I have, in fact, learned on a popular BBC TV history programme that sheep were more commonly milked at this time than cows; and who am I to argue with the TV?
*** Cwmisaf’s nearest neighbouring house is now “Parc-y-Banc”, built at some time in the past 50 years. It was built in the field called “Burgage”, but this was presumably deemed an unsuitable name for a new house in a predominantly Welsh-speaking neighbourhood.
† E. T. Lewis says that prior to 1846 there was no regular school in the area. Rev John Griffith held one (probably at Bethel) around 1789. From 1846 there were schools at Eglwyswen (on the way to Crymych), Maenclochog and Llanfyrnach. There was also (“mid-century”) a man called John Morris educating children in the parish church; and beating them, according to a poem (in Welsh) written by one of his pupils. The children had to go to church on Sundays, even if their parents went to chapel(!)
†* Future editions, and indeed road-signs, place the village itself a couple of miles north centred on the collection of mostly newer houses that were built around the smaller bridges on the Crymych road, by the post office and the baptist chapel.
†** Or whoever wrote it in the census could be persuaded not to translate it into English? Who knows how these things work…
†*** It would be remiss of me not to mention at this juncture that only 96 years after General Dunsterville took Baku, the Eurovision Song Contest would be held there for the first time. And no, I do not think I am straying from the point here.
DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to faithfully represent the facts as I see them. Corrections or clarifications would be very welcome. Any questions or complaints can be directed to the author via the comments section, or by email to alexander dot S dot H dot velky at gmail dot com. Most images are my own but others found on the internet have been reproduced without permission. If you would like any removed, ask me.
When one is approaching blogging from a narrative angle it becomes easier and easier to put it off. To decide that nothing particularly noteworthy has happened; either from the point of view of interested outside parties or from the perspective of our future Landskerian selves, should we want to consult historical archives for evidence of what we were up to. For weaving historical narratives, or because we want to sue one another, or something else. Who knows for what purpose these words may one day be used?
This is of course a philosophical way of acknowledging a periodic lapse in entries. These are usually caused by psychological blockages rather than anything more substantial. And those might arise from the intrinsic aforementioned doubts which simultaneously bless and plague our Landskerian way of life, or from the burdensome gift of technology, which offers so much but at such a high cost. That high cost is partly manifested in hosting and domain registration; but the toll on time, if we are to make any kind of effective use of this medium, is much greater. Especially if we want to use pictures. So perhaps in future we’ll be lighter on those here (since Instagram is a better medium for them anyway) and this text-based platform will be reserved more for matters of state. Records and administration. This First Quarterly Report from the Landskerian Government is an attempt to do that. It is the first. It might be the last! Who knows? But in theory it should set the standard for official seasonal updates from the central ministries of the Landskerian state, such as it is at this time (which is to say that whether or not there even exists a Landskerian state is a fraught and complex philosophical question in itself).
Whereaboutswithallnotsomuch further ado, here are reports from the Ten Ministries, which although they are split between the two joint First Ministers, will be reported here, for convenience’s sake, entirely by me, Joint First Minister Alexander Velky.
Spring Report 2018
Finance Secretary’s Report from the Bank of Landskeria (Treasury Office)
We lost one of those little calculator things that helps you log in to your online bank account. So another one has been ordered. Finances remain adequate for conducting the basic affairs of state. But no Grand Projects can be greenlit at this time due to a lack of liquid assets; most of our assets being tied up, as they have been for some time, in a complicated combination of real property, theoretical debt, and conceptual art. Income sources are a combination of marketing consultancy services, tourism revenue, and foreign aid. Expenditure is chiefly the aforementioned debts, coupled with ordinary budgetary constraints relating to the support and maintenance of human and non-human life within the borders of New Landskeria.
Nature Secretary’s Report from the Office of Natural Law (Environment Office) Drainage has continued to occupy most of our time and money in this department. The Great Drainage Ditch of Landskeria was completed in the winter, and more recently the existing surface drainage channel behind the house was cleared to the first then the second inspection chamber, and is now discharging smoothly once more into The Pit. Watercourses are in rude health, at least cosmetically, and we have even begun discussions with ourselves about introducing legal constraints over development and earmarking some peripheral parts of New Landskeria to become National Parks, in support of numerous endangered species rumoured to be native to our home, specifically in terms of fauna: European otters, brook lampreys, bullheads, and migratory salmon and sewin. In terms of flora there are several pondweeds and bogweeds, in addition to water crowfoot. All of the aforementioned are protected as part of the UK state’s Afon Wern SSSI and the Preseli Hills sub-region of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park; so we thought it prudent that safeguards were in place in the (possible future) event of a unilateral declaration of independence from the Landskerian people.
A recent visit from Natural Resources Wales (following an invitation issued by the Nature Secretary) mainly focused on Factory Office jurisdiction, but crossover was recognized, and it was as a response to their advice that a piece of purportedly otter-friendly land in The Common has been renamed The Holt, and is now under a development moratorium until the Landskerian National Parks committee has been formed and has held its inaugural session. (For the record, the remaining areas of what was formerly The Common have been renamed The Sluices, The Finger, and The Neck; these new names will be reflected in all future cartography produced by the Office of Domiciles and Citizenship.)
Landskeria remains heavily dependent on food (and wine) imports, and due to budgetary constraints in the R&D department this is unexpected to change soon. However it should be noted that wild strawberry plants have been discovered along The Drive, and that there are an abundance of suspected gooseberry bushes along The Holloway. Brambles are ubiquitous, however nettles have still not been officially given food status by the Office, and thus remain officially inedible until further notice.
Finally a note on invasive species: Japanese knotweed has returned as expected, and will be dealt with by the Office forthwith.
Industry Secretary’s report from the Office of Industry and Energy (Factory Office)
Investigations into the feasibility of hydropower installation on the site of the Factory’s disused waterwheel remain in slow progress. Some contacts have been procured for preliminary feasibility studies, with a view to deciding what sort of technology might afford the most efficient and cost-effective means of energy-production. Self-sufficiency in electricity remains a high priority for the office. Having sought advice from the better-funded environment agency of our neighbouring country, budgetary constraints (as opposed to environmental ones) remain the chief concern; on the upside, we are confident we could undertake works with minimal negative impact on the environment, and could afford any necessary licenses to proceed with works. But a True Returns forecast of no more than fifteen years remains the target, and no major works will be undertaken without such a forecast in place.
A tourism effort staffed by Landskeria’s stateless nation continues to operate from Landskeria’s nationless state, formerly The Most Serene Republic of Landskeria, now referred to colloquially (if not officially) as Old Landskeria. The house where Landskeria began is now a holiday cottage rentable on Airbnb. Vague plans are in place to sell the property in 2019, thus releasing liquid assets to (quite literally) pour into developments at New Landskeria; which territory will in such an event lose its temporary title and revert to the simple official name of “Landskeria” until such time as a republic (or, perish the thought, some non-republican state entity) should be declared.
Transport Secretary’s report for Fleet (Transport Office)
One of the cars began to smell and fall apart, so was replaced with a similar one. The other car was smelling, but not falling apart, so was cleaned. A tarpaulin has been requested to prevent leakage in the latter car, and currently its handbrake has been temporarily replaced with a few large bricks/logs. Landskeria’s three bikes remain in poor repair. The children’s bikes are due some maintenance in anticipation of dry weather at some point in-between now and 2019, and the one adult-sized Landskerian bike remains in a shed in Old Landskeria and needs removing to a secure location. The Home Office have mooted the possibility of procurement of drones to help with cartography, but budgetary constrains have precluded it in the near future. Finally, our space-hopper is discoloured due to an algae contamination, but remains functional.
Home Secretary’s report from the Office of Domiciles and Citizenship (Home Office)
Recent cosmetic works in Cwmisaf include but are not limited to painting the banisters, moving furniture around in the lounge, and procuring tradesmen to move a wood-burning stove from one end of a room to the other. Works booked in for the Factory include minor repairs to roof and windows. Upcoming groundsworks external to the House will be shared between the jurisdiction of the Home and Environment Offices. These include (at least in terms of having been mooted) a domestic extention into The Shop, tarmac along The Drive, and a turning circle and/or car-port to the west flank of The House, where currently there is only a raised bog and a surface drainage channel.
Cartography is on hold due to the administrative flux inherent to the governance of a non-state entity with statelike pretensions. Names and borders are amended regularly at this stage, and ought all to be drawn in pencil until such time as pens become appropriate.
In citizenship news, a Landskerian national anthem has been written, and is being practised by most citizens in advance of our December 1 National Day celebrations. Budgetary constraints have slowed progress on the development of the Landskerian language, and currently the only place in which it exists in its true form is in the aforementioned anthem, or “shanghuur” – a rough English approximation of the Landskerian word which translates back into English as “adoration song”.
Children’s Secretary’s report from the House of Tomorrow (Second Chamber)
The House of Tomorrow remains a conceptual entity in terms of its powers as a second chamber in the Landskerian parliamentary system of government. Although two actual real children are under the jurisdiction of the Children’s Secretary they do not yet have voting power, and talks pertaining to the mooted awarding of said powers have not been timetabled. The “chamber” thus currently functions more like one of our offices; while the Landskerian parliament, which had neither a formal sitting nor a representative office in and of itself, remains at loggerheads due to one of the two ministers (myself) having repeatedly claimed to have a vote equating to a 51% share of legislative influence. Thus despite the attempt to remove legislative blockages by amending the 50/50 vote-share between the Joint First Ministers to a more pro-active 51/49 share, the result has actually been that even less legislation has been passed than before. There is an optimistic notion that the House of Tomorrow could somehow be the answer to this conundrum, but the exact details of how that might happen remain elusive.
Foreign Secretary’s Report from the Embassy (Foreign Office)
Most Landskerians spent a large proportion of the Easter holidays visiting family in Herefordshire. Relations with closer foreign territories are ongoing and cordial. Landskeria’s reliance on foreign aid, and on tourism income and other income sources from corporate entities in neighbouring territories, necessitates a pragmatic rather than an idealistic approach to our dealings with “outsiders”. We have neither the arsenal nor the diplomatic resources to adopt an expansionist approach to policy; although we believe strongly in the Landskerian way of life, no digestible written description of this currently exists, so we have no doctrine to spread with missionary zeal, even if we thought our neighbours might be receptive. Landskeria’s Home Office remains a bigger priority in terms of budget and resources. Once we have our house in order we might be better placed to consider our official policy on relationships with extra-Landskerian entities; until that time the work of the Foreign Office relies on common sense and is mostly reactive. That said our Foreign Secretary has established ties with the local Anglican church. Of course there is no church in Landskeria, and there almost definitely never will be; but the presence of a church so close to Landskerian borders has been seen as an opportunity for community outreach into Mynachlogddu, and the wider historical area of Dyfed. The nearby school in Maenclochog is also an entity we mean to keep close ties with; for at least as long as young Landskerians are attending it. Most Landskerians are attending Welsh language lessons, and also frequenting local shops, leisure centres and libraries. So far anti-Landskerian sentiment has been minimal and we hope to keep it this way. With a view to maintaining a state of low tension, early forays into a semi-aggressive expansionist foreign policy have been abandoned. That said, three of the four original disputed territories at Landskeria’s borders have been retained as official claims, namely: The Golden Triangle, The Gate, and The Far Island. The latter, however, might be incorporated into any National Park established alongside The Holt in the area formerly known as The Common, so development of any kind on this island seems highly unlikely.
Lord Commander’s Report on the Arsenal (Defence Office)
No machines of war are in our arsenal at this time and no R&D to this effect is scoped. A private offer was made of an air rifle for the purpose of shooting vermin, however agreement could not be reached on the proposed storage location of the weapon since Landskeria’s “Arsenal” remains an abstract entity at this time; so plans were shelved. Landskeria’s defensive means remain secret by necessity, but it is understood that they mostly comprise wood and stone, with minimal metal given over to this purpose. Landskeria is not a nuclear state and has no ambitions in this area. We currently rely on the UK state for defence, but have not yet needed to call in any favours. As long as foreign relations remain cordial, we see no need to divert budget into this Office, and it exists mainly as a ceremonial entity; the Commander reserves the title that comes with the Office, regardless of the lack of a standing army to be commanded.
Health Secretary’s Report From the Hospital (Health Office)
One of our dogs is due some vaccinations, and we have discovered by accident that one of our daughters is not allergic to hazelnuts. We have yet to register our citizens with the local doctor’s surgery in Crymych, but intend to in the near future.
Chief Justice’s Report from the Jury of Landskeria (Law Office)
Landskeria remains entirely free from any and all domestic crime. However, a known individual from Rhosfach has been regularly dumping bags full of rubbish (including documents bearing his name and address) into Afon Wern from Pont Mynachlogddu. Reprisal strategies have taken up the majority of the time and resources of the Jury; however whether responses to these perceived hostile acts should be lead by the Jury, the Arsenal, or the Embassy remains a moot point. When UK defence assistance was sought, both the Welsh environment agency and the county council have suggested this matter is not their responsibility. Informal advice from the latter amounted to a suggestion to enact direct reprisals, but no resources were promised to aid with the effort. We remain vigilant in this area. Meanwhile, the Jury would like to spend more time on domestic policy in future.
This was the Landskerian Spring Report 2018.
The weather is mild. The environment is resurgent. The economy is stretched.
Since moving to Pembrokeshire five and a half years ago I’ve come to appreciate bogs. Bogs, mires, marshes, moors, swamps, mangroves (possibly) and all related upland and/or wetland areas. In Central Pembrokeshire they’re often referred to as “commons”, because the only land in or near any given village that hasn’t been successfully enclosed and surrounded by high-tensile barbed-wire fencing by its owners is generally poor-draining virtually unfarmable muck, and is thus given over to relatively rare grazing by the relatively poorer local farmers paying either a pittance or nothing at all to the local landowner who is usually descended from an Anglo-Norman warlord and usually probably hasn’t seen the land with his (or her, hahaha; but obviously usually his) eyes for several generations. And, thus, technically, never.here are terms like “rights of pasturage” and “court leet” that hark back to a feudal age we think ourselves far removed from, but whose rules and influence are there to be seen pretty much anywhere you look in modern British society; not just in the bogs.
I’m no expert on bog-based wildlife or anything like that. A lot of it is microfauna and microflora; so you don’t even necessarily see much when you’re traipsing around in it. There are protected species of butterfly (Marsh Fritillary, etc.) and dainty flowers that make some of the local mires SSSIs. There are sometimes skylarks where the marshes become more moorish. There are often red kites overhead (as there are increasingly all over rural Wales and England). There might be sheep, ponies, rabbits or rather unfortunate cows; but the bigger beasts stay away from the muddiest bits if they can. (They’re prone to getting stuck otherwise.) In Wallis there’s sometimes a couple of goats chained to a tree, looking for all the world like a sacrifice idly waiting for the local dragon to turn up. Where there’s enough flowing water there might be a heron.
Our river, Afon Wern, is essentially called Marsh River; and it drains the eastern slopes of Pembrokeshire’s highest mountain (or “hill” if you’re a racist) and Gors Fawr: the placid expanse of common land to which our home has centuries-old rights of pasturage which were unregistered in the ’60s and are therefore not legally recognized by Pembrokeshire County Council. Gors Fawr means Big Bog, and it’s home to Pembrokeshire’s only complete original stone circle. Some few thousand years old. Nobody really knows. The water from Gors Fawr actually comes into our leat before it’s allowed into the Wern; and while the majority still joins the Wern after escaping through the sluice channels in The Common, the fact that water from the land around those ancient sacred stones flows right outside the front of my house makes me very happy.
But this week I’ve been getting bogged down in words more than bogs. I’m learning Welsh. Re-learning, I might say; because I was close to studying for a GCSE when I first moved to England. But then I didn’t use it for over a decade, except on rare occasions when I was drunk at a party and wanted a “code” language in which to converse with a brother. Then we’d speak a debased form.
Now I’m learning Pembrokeshire Welsh; even Preseli Welsh, which is different again from the former, which is different to South Welsh, which is different to North Welsh. This all pleases me. The notion of full standardization of language is always a con, and serves only to elevate one person’s tongue above another’s. Proper English might serve a practical use (as any standardized language does; usually the justification of state control over the provinces) but ask anyone with an ounce of intellectual curiosity and they’ll soon reveal a penchant for dialect from some or other corner of the country. I won’t pretend to know what Welsh attitudes are. It’s no doubt different in a country where standardization has been more recent, less strict, and (arguably) less successful. And in a country where a foreign language has gradually become dominant; first as a colonial language, with all the accompanying oppression, and then as an adopted majority native language, with all the accompanying ambivalence.
The concept of Landskeria simultaneously exists (in my mind, at least) as an earnest attempt to enrich our lives with joy and wonder through unbounded creativity, and as a playful satire on nationalism generally. I’m quite confident that it can be both. (Even if Welsh nationalists on Twitter think it’s some form of errant neocolonialism.) And it’s in that spirit (the creativity and the satire; not the neocolonialism) that I decided (partly spurred on by a discussion in my Welsh class) that Landskeria needs a language of its own; separate from, though undoubtedly also closely related to, English and Welsh.
The language will be referred to in English, at least temporarily, with the same word we use for the people, in singular form: Landskerian. This will be fixed later. Although English will remain our first language, and Welsh our second (technically of equal legal and administrative importance; but we must recognize reality), the intention is that Landskerian will one day join these two as a third official language, and maybe supersede both to become the ceremonial language de jure of our nation.
I will share with you what I have so far.
That’s not the real term, but it’s the name of the text doc I’m working on to outline a simple phonetic alphabet which will serve as the bricks and mortar for the written (and trasnferrably oral) Landskerian language. It’s based on English with a little Welsh thrown in for good measure. The English letters c, q and x have been jettisoned in favour of, respectively, k/s, kw, and ks; the first because I have always hated c, as I imagine many English-learners do; the second because q and x strike me as consonant clusters and not true digraphs. The Welsh double letters ll, ch, and dd are included as lh, kh and dh. (I think these types of two-letter consonants which make a single sound are referred to as “digraphs” so that’s what I’ll call them.) Most other included sounds, which ought to (between them) replicate the majority of sounds available in both languages, are present in a recognizably phonetic form. 23 core single letters are pronounced in their basic form, which ought to invite something like a consensus among anyone likely to actually see any of this: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, y, z. They all do a different job, and are all thus necessary. I’ve (so far) only added one new letter, which is “ə”. I think it’s called a “Schwa”, but I just call it an “uh” at the moment, because that’s the approximate sound. It’s the most common vowel sound in English and not uncommon in Welsh; sometimes it’s represented as e, u, o, a… depends when and where it appears in a word. Take “word” as an example. Most of us say that as “wərd”; not “word” at all. In fact, most English people say “wəəd” because most English people only pronounce a r if it’s near the beginning of a wəəd. Here’s the working (wəəking) alphabet, with digraphs and diphthongs included alongside their core letters:
a (aa) “father”=”faadhə” (ae) “hay”=”hae” (ao) “out”=”aot” b d (dh) “this”=”dhis” e (ea) “here”=”hea” (ee) “hair”=”hee” ə (ə) “the”=”dhə” (əə) “girl”=”gəəl” f g h i (ie) “eat”=”iet” j (jh) “church”=”jhurjh” k (kh) “loch”=”lokh” l (lh) “llan”=”lhan” m n o (oe) “no”=”noe” (oi) “boy”=”boi” (ou) “power”=”pouə” p r s (sh) “shop”=”shop” t (th) “think”=”think” u (uh) “look”=”luhk” (uu) “caught”=”cuut” v w (wh) “soon”=”swhn”, “view”=”vywh” y (yh) “by”=”byh” z (zh) “vision”=”vizhən”
I’m more or less pleased with the above and confident that using those letters, digraphs and diphthongs I can replicate all of the sounds I might want in my language. But I am just slightly troubled by the idea of a perfectly “logical” set of letters (including a delicious new addition in the form of ə) being compromised by the innately less “logical” inclusion of the diphthongs and digraphs. If I could conjure up 22 (I think?) new symbols that were clear and unambiguous I’d favour those over the double-letters. Of course I have to consider keyboards above pens, but, ultimately, both must be catered for. Special modifying symbols are a maybe. I’ll consult with the other Landskerians over the coming months. In the meantime we’re working with these. And I’ve come up with a set of numbers from one to ten, and a translation of a verse from a poem I wrote in 2017. These will follow as images with accompanying comparisons for curiosity’s sake. Which is, let’s face it, the only sake of any of this.
Count to ten in Landskerian!
You can use the above to practice counting to ten in Landskerian. Roll your R on “tres” please. I haven’t decided whether ten will be “dejh” or “yondejh” yet (mirroring the numerical presentation). I think we can assume that the first use of “dejh” means 10, and that subsequent multiples (20, 30, 40) would be dawdejh, tresdejh, kwasdejh, etc. if we want to keep things simple.
The world’s first verse of Landskerian poetry
The verse here is the first from a simple poem I wrote in 2017. I say simple, but obviously it’s laden with hidden meanings and depths. The form is simple. The themes involve drainage as a literal thing and a metaphor, and accompanying cross-considerations of ecology, pollution, defecation, sanitation, sewerage, precipitation, corruption, etc. The Google translate is included just to show I put some actual effort into the Welsh translation! That’s not to say it makes sense. I couldn’t tell you. Ask someone who can actually speak Welsh. I wanted to keep the rhyme scheme in this, and most of the rhythm, though I allowed the third non-rhyming line to deviate. I also used the real name of the river in the Welsh one (Wern, or Marsh – some added ambiguity for you there). I also swapped “veins” for “hand”, retaining a sense of empowerment or control, keeping the rhyme, but losing the commonality with rivers. Bowel became bola (mutated to mhola) which is stomach, but sounds right. And “baw” means “mud” rather than “drains”, but confers a similar meaning I think. And I like that baw is also used for “feces” (especially an animal’s) in Welsh. Notably in the poem “Preseli” by local poet (and local hero) Waldo Williams, where the call-to-arms against an invading beast signifies the campaign to prevent the MOD from seizing the Preseli region for the armed forces after WW2. My Landskerian translation is mostly a made-up word-for-word translation of the English. I’ve had to change the rhythm a bit, and the rhymes are replaced for echoing assonance (as an -a sound usually signifies a plural or a simple present verb conjugation in Landskerian; at least so far!) The one real difference is that in this version the river (vən-tuu; literally river-water) rises (rusha) when (pen) rain falls (we-tuu; literally air-water) falls (vola). I can’t remember why there’s an r after “wetuu” but… you know… this is a work-in-progress.
Serious political contemplation has very much taken a “back foot” to drainage this winter.
It’s not that the winter of ’17-’18 has been peculiarly wet. More that the territories of New Landskeria are perpetually wet. Thousands of gallons of water (probably, IDK imperial measurements?) are being hurled our way every second of the day and night, from the north, from the east, and (when it rains) from the southwest. Afon Wern is a constant raging reminder of the perpetuity of all that is not human, and of our own ephemeral existence as sparks in creation’s dark. But even more than that, it is a river. A river which drains the eastern slopes of the highest peak in Pembrokeshire, and the highest, and probably the boggiest, bog in Pembrokeshire, and (last but by no means least) the freest and no doubt one of the muddiest settlements in Pembrokeshire: our home.
So whenever it hasn’t been raining (or snowing; we have had some proper snow this winter, for the first time in five years) I’ve been out there digging. I had to give back the pickaxe I borrowed from mum, so V kindly bought me a much wider fibreglass-handled pick from Wickes. It dwarfs its predecessor. And me. Alas, no treasure has relinquished itself to me from the murky depths of the mud and rock beneath our sodden drive. Only shards of pottery, porcelain and glass. And waste pipes. And older, deeper drainage systems. Perhaps roman. Or just pre-1960s. And electric cables. And water pipes. And mysterious brick-walled chambers.
Every day I dig, an unforeseen object blocks my path, and slows my pace. The straight line I plotted out has become a serpentine passage to who-knows-where. At least it’s still mainly going uphill. Because the water will always flow down the hill. Until it gets into that weird pen thing that I think might have been a sheep-dipping pit, and V thinks might have been something to do with wool. Then it disappears into a rocky hole and under The Lawn. To who-knows-where. (Well, the river eventually; then the sea. And then back again for more of the same…)
December was tiring, but fun toward the end once school broke up and Christmas and New Year’s Eve approached, with their festive promise. We were supposed to be going to England, but ended up staying here because of dogs and (theoretically, I suppose) a fish. We also had our second and third set of guests in our holiday-home. And fortunately both sets seemed to have a better time than the first. Even though the boiler packed up twice during the second lot’s tenure. Our own boiler (and our aga) also stopped working on Boxing Day (I think) because we forgot to have the oil tank refilled. This facilitated some lengthy learning opportunities of the heating-engineering variety. I can now control pressure, and remove air from both the water system and the oil. Between boiler-tinkering and faffing about with a car that seems to magnetically attract nails to its tyres, the holiday involved more admin than I might have chosen. But at least some of it was of the practical variety, rather than phone- or computer-based. I have no problem with computers (as any of my hundreds of friends* will tell you). But I hate phones, and probably always will. Give me screwdrivers, drills, saws, axes, etc. any day. They don’t talk back. Which is fortunate, because I’m usually swearing at them.
What else has happened? We hired a power-sander and power-sanded some floorboards. The girls both performed in their first school play. Sybil had a line: “Ni’n hoffi canu a dawnsio”. She was a star. I mean, literally; she was representing a personification of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity. And she did so quite well. Fury was a sheep, and she picked her nose. Both enjoyed the singing.
Christmas with Marek. NYE with Samantha and Harry. For Christmas I got a Japanese saw, a bottle of Xinomavro, and a framed picture of Alan Partridge performing air-bass to Gary Numan’s 1982 single “Music for Chameleons”. We made short work of the Xinomavro. I’ve been enjoying the saw ever since, and have almost completely wiped out the laurels on the 2 acres of New Landskeria that lies south of the C-road. I haven’t yet worked out where to put the picture.
Some time before Christmas I set out to trace the course of Pont Hywel’s old mill race. They had the mill downriver from ours, but their mill-race (through which the leat no longer runs for the entirety of its length) is much, much longer. A couple of miles perhaps. It begins opposite the end of our own, in-between The Lawn and the Brambles. A fallen ash lies across the river here. I’d once thought it fortunate that the widest point of the river adjoins our land. But fortune is not the only reason for this. A line of boulders were put there to break the current some time over a century ago, thus creating a diversion for part of the current behind what is now The Forbidden Island, flowing south almost parallel to the Wern proper, though growing more distant as it gets farther south, and benefiting from the drainage of the eastern fields belonging to Plas y Meibion.
When they stopped using Pont Hywel’s mill (perhaps the same time they stopped using ours; a short while after the Second World War) the diverted part of the river was either re-diverted or re-diverted itself back into the Wern only about ten or twenty metres south, in a little waterfall. Thus, at some point in the past half a century, The Forbidden Island was formed. It is very unlikely to be accurately depicted on anyone’s land registry title deed. It is represented as a small field on ours. Now the boundaries that restrain the beasts are far back behind the boggiest ground of the West Bank, nowhere near the island. The island is untended, unloved, and unclaimed. Or at least it was…
Somewhere between the island and Plas y Meibion’s ditches, when I charted the path of the former leat, I found a sheep’s skull. And I returned to claim it with Marek on Christmas day, so V could incorporate it into her costume for the fantasy-themed murder mystery dinner party we were hosting on the 30th. Marek seemed somewhat bemused by the walk, which (like most central Pembrokeshire walks) mostly featured mud, barbed-wire, and brambles. I admit, it’s probably not a walk I’ll do very often. It’s not a public footpath for one thing. Although with a modicum of maintenance it would be a very lovely route, affording advantageous vistas of the marshy land between the Wern and the Plas y Meibion ditches. The field in-between looked like it rarely (if ever) holds cattle, and was too wet to provide any kind of marketable crop. I’m not sure whether it’s a viable habitat, or just a field where damp fodder is grown for farming subsidies. Whatever it is, it looked very peaceful.
Following a successfully mysterious murder-themed party (uniting, temporarily, members of clans Keeble, Velky, Kynaston and numerous client clans) in which only Sybil guessed that Harry was the murderer, and a (somewhat) traditional New Year’s Eve game of Lord of the Rings Risk in which good vanquished evil as it usually does, and probably ought to, 2018 arrived, with a bit of a cough, and a bit of a hangover, but some pleasant clarity of aspect. Perhaps the day itself was muggy, but the moon was wonderful, and a frosty stillness soon returned to the mornings. So I assembled my pickaxe and ventured out to claim the large trumpet-shaped object Harry and I had spotted in the brambly undergrowth where the parking area of The Sheds thickly borders The High Mire. The object turned out to be far more exciting than I expected. It’s part of an air-horn, which might have in turn been part of a steam whistle on a ship. Or an air-raid siren system. Hard to say for sure, but it’s fun to shout through. Even though I haven’t cleaned it properly yet.
The digging is hard in the frosty clay. It’s not all toil though, this rural life. I had a lot of fun with that saw; and I even took my spade over to the brambles, to dig some rotten wood and soil from around what I thought was a pig-pen, but which I now think might be (or at least might be better marketed as) a neolithic passage tomb. This afternoon, after their first day back at school (and Fury’s first ever full day at school) I took the kids over there with half a bag of popcorn to show them the stones, and the pool that drains from The High Mire, and the piles of murdered laurels. They liked it all. Especially the popcorn. We imagined what it would be like living in The Mill. Sybil was excited by the idea of rope bridges and rope ladders to attic bedrooms. Fury looked quite worried.
Later on I found a fox skull on an unexplored corner of the second island of The Common. On returning with my prize, I joked with Sybil that a bestial noise we heard outside might have been the headless fox coming to reclaim its skull. She correctly pointed out that a headless fox would have difficulty making a bestial noise. I asked her how she would make a noise if she had no head, and she said that she’d make a noise by kicking me in my head. So we left it at that.
We’re coming to the end of Bogwoppit, which we’ve been reading at night (or rather, which I’ve been reading to them at night; it’s a bit advanced for their current skill-level). And I’m coming to the (bitter) end of Savage Continent, having finished Sapiens over the holiday. My editors Adam and Dave are suffering through my publicly undemanded third poetry book, Has Doubts Volume Three: In the Men’s Room. And I’m contemplating future career options: web-editor, copywriter, community-manager, tour-guide, tree-surgeon, navvy… gameshow host? Only time will tell.
The weather is appropriate. The environment is revealing. The economy is stretched.
Your (gameshow) host,
* Facebook friends. I don’t have hundreds of real friends. Nobody does.
Last time I wrote, I detailed a partial audit of the as-yet-undeclared state of New Landskeria, which (due to said undeclaredness) we probably ought to refer to ambiguously as a “territory” for now. That this is the same term I’m provisionally using to refer to the smaller administrative regions within New Landskeria (and the adjoining disputed areas) is, I admit, unfortunate.
What’s happened since that update? Well, we weathered the afterstorms of Hurricane Ophelia, during which all schools in Pembrokeshire were closed. I found out that a previous resident of our house once escaped from Colditz. I’ve tinkered with the flow of the Leat (almost causing a flood at one point). We’ve continued with minor refurbishment at New Landskeria (flat-pack furniture, paint, new linoleum, etc.) and Old Landskeria (new carpet, stripping old carpet, painting floorboards, etc.) The boiler has bust in New Landskeria, so Autumn seems a lot colder than it ought to; or, alternatively, about as cold as it ought to, depending on your POV. We’re saving up to fix it, and it ought to be dealt with by next time I write an update (and, crucially, by the time we next have guests!)
The dishwasher is also still bust, but we have hot water and a working oven, so we’re basically halfway to achieving “developed nation” status. We hope to be there by Christmas. Minor concerns like knotweed, guttering, sulphur damage in the chimneys, mice in the Shop, etc. will have to wait. All my current time and efforts are being taken up with the very serious issue of drainage (relating to the less serious, but still rather annoying issue of mud). Drainage occupies most of my waking thoughts these days. Usually when I talk to other people in real life (and even sometimes on the internet) I am unable to talk about anything but drainage. My last three poems have related at least partly to drainage. The next (which I’m working on in my head at the moment) is explicitly drainage-themed.
You’d probably love to know more detail about my drainage issues, but this blog-post is for auditing land, so now we’re back from a brief half-term holiday near Betws-y-Coed, and the kids are relatively placated after being taken to see the My Little Pony movie, I will continue with that task.
I didn’t mention the House last time, did I? There is a house in New Landskeria. One of the things which attracted us to the territory; though by no means its finest asset. The house is a standard Pembrokeshire cottage with a double-reception and a later kitchen extension to the rear. Three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, and a weird utility area with an oversized Belfast sink in the back corner under the bathroom. The guttering is buggered and the loft space is batty. Obviously it’s damp, but other than that it’s basically okay. More relevantly to this audit, the House also comprises the adjoining concreted areas for run-off, surface-drainage and waste pipe running, the overgrown gravel area of the Drive, from the Bridge down to (but not including) the septic tank (which is under the jurisdiction of the Lawn territory), the bit of rear garden behind the kitchen and along the back toward the Bog, and the bit of raised garden to the left of the Leat if you’re facing the Mill from the House, which bit of garden contains some rusty hay-grabbing apparatus of yesteryear. It also includes the Shop (which is really a kind of semi-glorified shed, whose name might or might not be a contraction of “workshop”) and the Greenhouse, which greenhouse is meagre and dilapidated and haunted by the ghosts of Tibetan prayer flags. There is also the ghost of a porch.
In the last blog-post I forgot the Brambles existed, and kept referring to it as the Chase. The Chase is north of the Brambles, but both could form a contiguous territory in the semi-flooding rocky and wooded area that acts as a buffer between the Sheds, the Drive, the Leat, and the River (which territory is mostly not considered part of New Landskeria, being part of the Western Cleddau SSSI). The Brambles comprises rocky riverside, some large alder, ash, sycamore and hazel, a pond (of sorts), lots of invasive laurel, some invasive knotweed and balsam, the ghost of a pig-pen, and some (but not many) land-locked boulders. And lots of brambles, obviously. It is suspected that some of the semi-active river-courses in this area used to be used as pools to trap migratory salmon, which practice was mentioned in a Welsh-language snippet of childhood memoir by a former reverend from Bethel Chapel in the local history book O’r Witwg i’r Wern. I have seen no salmon since we moved in, but then there are generally fewer things in the world now than there used to be. (And yet more record of fewer things.)
Despite its name, the Chase does not provide habitat for megafauna as far as we know. The sometimes-seen grey squirrels are likelier to be resident among the conifers on the South Island. The salmon and sewin are yet to make an appearance. Nevertheless, the Chase is called the Chase for now, and not the Boulders, which was another possible name, perhaps because of the promise of otters (seven breeding females are said to be present along the basin of the Western Cleddau, so I could imagine at least one choosing the Wern as her home); or perhaps because it’s the likeliest place to find human megafauna, in the shape of me, laboriously chopping down sycamores with a medium-sized fibreglass axe from Aldi to free up airspace for New Landskeria’s only known oak tree. A large, impressive specimen, whose roots embrace the riverside rocks just south of the biggest boulder on our land, situated opposite where the tip of the South Island oversees the confluence of the two main branches of the Wern after they pass beneath Pont Mynachlogddu. I’m calling it Benny the Big Boulder until I think of a more poetic name. The Chase also currently comprises the overgrown and boggy areas to the north of the main territory, alongside the Leat and the Drive, to the north of the car-park area of the Sheds, and to the south of Pont Mynachlogddu, also known as the C-road, also known as the Road. But all of these things may change in time, because nothing lasts forever.
The South Island
The South Island is the southern half of the lemon-shaped, or almond-shaped, or island-shaped, island that supports the central base of Pont Mynachlogddu, sometimes, or possibly formerly, known as Pont Cwmisaf. Certainly it’s nearer the latter than the former, but I’ve no immediate wish to be more closely associated with it unless I can charge people to cross it. And charging people to cross a bridge into (or indeed out of) Mynachlogddu seems an unwise plan if one knows anything about local history; for it’s only a mile or two upriver that you get to the former home of Twm Carnabwth, father (or mother?) of the Rebecca Rioters. I can’t see a tollgate lasting long up there, so we’ll call it Pont Mynachlogddu for as long as Pembrokeshire County Council maintain it. Back to the island: about ten large conifers (Scots pines, I think), some smaller deciduous business, and not too much else. The barbed-wire border from the West Bank crisscrosses the river here to prevent cattle from getting south. There is an abundance of Japanese knotweed on the South Island.
The North Island
The North Island on the other side of the bridge is technically access land (and can be accessed by a sort of slate style, which I feel is a subtle hint toward this) but it’s not hugely accessible once you’re on it. Mostly hazel, battered ash, and thick bramble. A barbed-wire border makes it unpleasantly militaristic, and numerous ancient alcohol bottled are littered among the undergrowth. It remains unclear why either the North or the South Island were kept by Cwmisaf’s previous owners when the rest of the farm-land was sold off; presumably because somebody has to own everything, and nobody would want to own these. The one section of the Wern-proper bordered on both sides by New Landkeria owes its sovereignty to this split island, though the legal status of this short stretch of water is much murkier than the river itself, which is crystal-clear for this short bend, and can often be seen to contain small dark fish.
The Common comprises three pieces of irregularly-shaped land whose main purpose (like the purpose of the short, sharp waterways that divide them) is to accommodate the passage of river water into the Leat that comprises the mill-race for the former woollen factory which we refer to as the Mill, and (presumably) its older brother (or cousin?) whose north wall is the only remaining part. The Common is overgrown with brambles, hazel, knackered ash, and an unfortunate abundance of laurel. The land across the Leat to the north, containing a feeding stream from Gors Fawr and a feeding drainage inlet from beneath the C-road, is not part of New Landskeria; and yet it is part of the thin bottleneck of access land leading to (and indeed forming part of) common land unit CL040, commonly known as Gors Fawr, over which New Landskeria enjoys (disputed) rights of pasturage.
The Far Island
The Far Island is an as-yet unexplored territory between the North Island and the northernmost tip of the Common, where the Leat begins. We suspect it of being a disputed territory and are currently building a portfolio of evidence to that effect. Much of the case will probably rest on “manifest ecology” and the likelihood of the merging of the Far Island with the Common following the formation of an oxbow lake, perhaps as soon as before the next ice age.
The Woodland is an ample square of woodland, largely hazel and willow, with ash borders, that acts as a buffer zone between New Landskeria, St Dogmael’s Church of Mynachlogddu But Not Actually In Mynachlogddu of England in Wales (Or Whatever It’s Called), and the neighbouring house to the north. It remains largely unexplored due to its density and political sensitivity.
The Quarry is situated in a raised position to the rear of the House (almost worryingly close, in fact) and bordered to the north by a boggy stretch of the Woodland which is in the process of being turned into a drainage channel. During heavy rainfall it acts as an overflow for the neghbours’ lane/pond/spring/ditch (details remain unclear). The Quarry is rumoured to have been the main source of stone for the Mill, and perhaps even for the House itself, which is thought to pre-date the Mill (but not to predate it, because that would be terrifying) by at least one hundred years. If this is indeed the case, the Quarry might be the oldest functioning territory in New Landskeria. It’s not doing much functioning now though, and hasn’t for many years by the look of it. It is overgrown with brambles and fully grown ash and sycamore trees. It has hardly been explored so far, due to a very real sense of geological dysmorphia.
That will do for now. Other non-territorial entities improper, such as the Leat, the Drive, the Bridge (not to be confused with Pont Mynachlogddu), and the disputed areas of the Gate and the Forbidden/Golden/Stolen Triangle, remain too contentious to be audited even partially at this time. As you can see, the political task ahead of us is at least as complex as the physical and psychological aspects of nation-building, if we are to ready a new Republic on this land. The (defunct) Most Serene Republic of Landkseria now seems like a distant dream from a simpler time. (When in fact it’s actually mostly just a house.) But we have marched on to this brave new future (or current present, to be more chronologically accurate) with the belief that Landskerian destiny requires, perhaps even demands it. Here we are then.
The audit ends. What follows now will be a time of serious political contemplation. And drainage. Lots of drainage.
The weather is foreboding. The environment is encouraging. The economy is tense.
Your beleaguered diarist,
PS: there will follow a map which attempts, and largely fails, to indicate the geographical features and the borders of New Landskeria. It is compromised by a combination of the failures of technology and the failures of the author to master said technology. We are still working on a more detailed map indicating administrative divisions. Any questions, complaints, or declarations of war, should be addressed to the embassy as usual.