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The swan ladies of Glamorgan

In Welsh folklore, there is no shortage of people able to morph into other forms. A flick through the pages of The Mabinogion can confirm that. There’s the story of Bloden- wedd, who transformed into an owl; Delilah, who transformed into an eagle; and Gilvaethy, who first turned into a deer, then a hog, then a wolf and finally back into a human.

Todays blog is about a more specific trend in Glamorgan folklore from later history. Stories about swans able to transform themselves at will into beautiful girls. I suppose given the delicate, porcelain like features, pure driven snow white complexion, long necks, demure bowed heads and overall glamour of your common or garden swan its probably not that surprising. But it isn’t something you commonly observe so frequently in the folklore of other areas.

These stories not only capitalise on the Welsh tradition for people taking the form of animals and vice versa to achieve a goal, they are also in that hopeless romantic genre so popular especially in the 19th century. A genre where people lose the love of their lives and die shortly afterwards of a broken heart. Or at the very least go mad.

Here are a couple which though unrelated, have a definite thread.

The first is set in the village of Candleston which used to lie between Merthyr Mawr and Tythegston, but these days has been lost to the sand dunes. It was a thriving community in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which makes it a little easier to date when this story originates from. Probably not co-incidental that this was also a time when it was very fashionable for the castles and great houses of the landed gentry to have a resident Welsh bard come along and stay for a few months, to write stories and songs. These would have been primarily for entertainment, and there were bragging rights to be had from who had the best bard. The stuff they would write would ostensibly be based on stories from history and would usually feature a celebrated descendant of the paying lord doing something tremendously brave or chivalrous. However, sometimes, their output like in this example, would have been purely for their entertainment value.

In this tale, a Candleston inn keeper’s wife had a reputation for keeping a string of lovers behind her husband’s back. What my mother would have described as being “a bit of a girl”. A wizard, seeking to punish her for her propensities, transformed her into a swan. Despite her indiscretions, the inn keeper loved his wife dearly and begged the wizard to turn her back. He refused, saying that she would turn back into human form in a year, by which time she would have learned the value of monogamy.

The inn keeper tied a blue ribbon to one of her wings, so that when she was swimming with the other swans in the estuary of the Ogmore river, he would know his beloved wife from the others. But one day, when she made advances on a male swan, his partner fought her off, and in the struggle that ensued, the ribbon was lost.

When all the swans flew south away, he watched them departing, unable to stop them, or even to spot his wife amongst them to bid her farewell. He never found out where she had flown to, or whether she turned back to her previous human form. They were never united again.

But if the innkeeper had come to hear a certain other local tale, then his story might have had a different ending. This might be total coincidence, but I think I might know where his wife got to.

There is quite a well-known local story about a farmer on Gower, although in some tellings it is set on Barry Island. This was back in the sixteenth century, when the island was still physically detached from the mainland, before it had houses or fun fairs, and the whole island was farmland.

While working in a field above Whitmore Bay, he saw a beautiful swan alighting among the rocks. There she laid aside her feathers and wings, turned herself into a beautiful maiden and bathed in the waters. After a time she put back on her trappings of a swan and flew away.

The amazed farmer watched this repeated on several occasions. Then one day he lay in wait for the swan, and as soon as she was transformed and enjoying the water, he snuck to the water’s edge, seized her swan garments and hid them. When eventually she rose from her bathe, she spied the farmer. Unable to recast herself as a swan, she asked him if he knew where her garments were. He claimed ignorance.

He offered instead to fetch her some clothes from his mother’s house, to save her dignity. This he did, and they walked along the beach together while he consoled her for the loss of her wings. As time passed, they got to know each other, fell in love and got married. For three years all was well. Then one day, by chance, he happened to leave open the oak chest where he had hidden her wings. Spotting them, she was enraged at the deception. However, over the years she had grown to love her husband, so striving to forgive him she said nothing about her discovery.

But having seen the wings, now all she could think about was the freedom of the skies and the life she had once lived. Then the day came when she heard her flock flying overhead. She could resist the call no more. She went back to the chest and put on her wings.

The farmer returned home from work that day to see his beautiful swan-like wife, her wings outstretched, slowly flying into the sunset. Her voice could be heard plaintively crying, ‘Farewell.’ The farmer so bitterly lamented his loss that he pined away and within a few months had died.

There is another version of this story, in which a man from Cadoxton and his friend from Rhoose find another two swan-ladies on Barry Island. Like the farmer, they marry these ladies, taking them back to their homes. However the Cadoxton swan-lady gets run over by a cart (being a swan she was unaware of the dangers of road traffic), while the one in Rhoose re-discovers her wings and takes to the skies. A nice detail of this version is that, after the swan ladies are gone, the two husbands are left to raise their children alone, and they all have conspicuously long necks.

This story was first published in my regular column in the Glamorgan Star. I have compiled these articles into a second book on the subject of local history, folklore and legend called ‘More legends and folklore from Barry, Bridgend and the Vale’. It retails for £12.99 and is available from Amazon, all good book shops or from my own website at a discounted price on this link. It would make a great Christmas present for anyone interested in Glamorgan’s colourful past.

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What happened to the lost regiments of the Vale of Glamorgan? 

There used to be four Welsh regiments whose numbers included numerous volunteers from the Vale of Glamorgan.

In the video below, I am joined by local military historian Mike Davies. In this month of remembrance (November 2022) we discuss the three local army regiments that carried the lions share of local volunteers. The Barry & Penarth divisions of The Royal Engineers and Garrison Artillery and The Glamorgan Yeomanry based in Cowbridge and Bridgend.

We look at where the volunteers came from, who they were, where they lived and what they did when they weren’t volunteering. We look at their roles and duties as soldiers and their contribution to the World Wars.

We also look at the stories of a handful of men from Barry, Penarth, Llantwit Major, Rhoose, Cowbridge and Tythegston who saw action. Some who made it home and some who did not. 

Finally we answer the obvious question of what happened to these old regiments.

Watch this video about the regiments of volunteers from Barry and the Vale of Glamorgan

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Barry Island – Land of myths and legends

If you have only ever briefly visited Barry Island or your only point of reference to it is Gavin and Stacy, this video might make your eyes pop out of your head.

Barry Island in the Vale of Glamorgan may be famous for Butlins holiday camp, the beach, the funfair and the arcades. But did you know it is supposedly the site of multiple miracles?

In the 6th or 7th century a monk called Baruc who was originally from Ireland, was a disciple of St Cadoc and was based at the ‘Clas’ Celtic Christian monastery at Llancarfan. He like countless monks before him, was using Barry Island as a retreat but events were to unfold here which would lead to a miracle and the canonisation of St Baruc.

This little known story led to Barry Island being the destination of countless pilgrims for the best part of 1,000 years. All eager to drink the waters of the holy well, claimed to have miraculous healing properties. Barry Island was the ‘Lourdes’ of the Vale of Glamorgan. Yet today very little remains to remind us of this. A few metres of crumbling masonry and a sign and that is about it.

In this latest video I tell the story of St Baruc, his legend, his miracle and his legacy.

I also cover a fun bit of folklore. A story published in 1909 but possibly dating back to the 17th century about two men. One from Rhoose and one from Cadoxton who spot two swans landing on a beach at Barry Island which turned into the women of their dreams.

I hope you enjoy it. If you want to watch more videos like this I have a YouTube channel full of them at https://youtube.com/user/grahamloveluck

If the written word is more your thing, both these stories are lifted from my latest book entitled ‘More legends and folklore from Barry, Bridgend and the Vale’. It is the second volume of such stories and is available at a discounted price from my online store. Just follow the link.

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The hanged man and the lady at Ogmore

We have some truly wild stories from our history here in South Wales. And this one is right up there.

Arguably the most spectacular story from Welsh medieval history is that of William Cragh and Lady Mary de Brouize. It amazes me how few people seem to have heard of it. These people were superstars in their day and in 1320 they put places like Candleston, Merthyr Mawr, Ogmore, Ewenny and Bridgend on the map.

But who were they? what was their amazing story? Why were they so famous? Why did they visit some really out of the way places in our area on their pilgrimage to Hereford? And why is that pilgrimage known as both The Hanged Man Pilgrimage and St Thomas Way?

The story begins with the backdrop of war. A Welsh rebellion against the Norman land owners and a raid on a Castle which ends in the capture of an enigmatic figure. But when attempts to execute him go spectacularly wrong, stories of a miracle spread throughout the known world. Even the pope got involved. But how does any of that concern Ogmore Castle?

In this video from the ‘History from the Vale of Glamorgan’ series I piece the whole story together and based on my own research, share with you my theory on why they came here.

I also share with you a theory that Ogmore Castle might be on the site of a place which was sacred to our ancient pagan ancestors. A place dedicated to the goddess Bridget. Drawing on things like near by place names such as St Brides, the ever present symbol of the pelican which lent its name to the local pub, and of course legends of ‘a white lady’ in the area. Bridget was the original white lady. In fact that is why when ladies put on a white wedding dress, they are described as ‘brides’.

Strap your selves in folks because this one is a real roller coaster. Click below to watch the video in full. Subtitles are available. Just click the CC button at the top of your screen.

If you would like more information on the story in this video, it is covered in more detail in my new book MORE LEGENDS AND FOLKLORE FROM BARRY BRIDGEND AND THE VALE available from Amazon, all good book shops and my own website at https://grahamloveluckedwards.com/product/more-legends-and-folklore-from-barry-bridgend-and-the-vale/

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The birth and boom of Barry Docks

Barry was a tiny hamlet of farms and cottages until 1886. Then in just 5 years it was turned into the biggest coal exporting port in the world and is now the biggest town in Wales.

How did that happen? What drove that expansion? Who were the people behind it and what was their motivation? And why is the dock now just a shadow of what it once was? In this video podcast, historian, author and broadcaster Graham Loveluck-Edwards discusses the meteoric rise of Barry (the docks and the town) with Nick Hodges of the Victorian Barry Experience. We look at the early years and what Barry was like before the docks, why Barry was chosen as the preferred site for the new docks, the vision of those who planned it, the labour and losses of those who physically built it and the lives of the people who lived and worked in its shadow.

It is amazing how the whole project, from vision to completion was executed. It was one of the most adventurous engineering projects of its age and planned with the type of holistic thinking our modern day planners could do with reflecting on. They didn’t just build a port, they planned streets, railways, sewers, cemeteries, schools etc to make sure the whole scheme worked from start to finish and people were not an after thought.

You can watch this video on the link below and it is available to share from my YouTube channel (which is https://youtube.com/user/GrahamLoveluck ). It is one of a series of discussion videos with expert guests called the ‘History On Your Doorstep’ series. They are written, presented and published by me; Welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and broadcast on Bro Radio as well my YouTube channel. In this series of short videos, I examine the pivotal moments in the history of the Vale of Glamorgan. The people, places and events that have shaped our county and still impact on our lives today. I hope you enjoy them.

If you would like to read more about Barry history I have several books which cover the area’s more ancient history. More information on them available on this link.

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The imposter of St Donats Castle

The tomb of the Stradlings

Regular readers of this blog may be interested to know that I have a new book out. As you would expect it is packed with fascinating exerts from our local history, as well as all the usual myths, legends, folklore, and ghost stories. Including the following episode. It concerns one of the most powerful dynasties in Welsh history; the Stradlings of St Donats Castle and how their ancestral home passed out of their hands under dubious circumstances.


Sir Thomas Stradling, was unmarried and in his twenties when he planned to go on the Grand Tour with his close friend from university, Sir John Tyrwhitt, the fifth baronet of Stainfield. Before the two young gentlemen set out on this great adventure, they made a pact with each other. If either was to die while on this tour, then the other would inherit the estate of the deceased. Or so it was claimed.


While the young men were both away, news reached the Stradling family that, on the 27th September 1738, while in Montpellier in the south of France, Sir Thomas Stradling had been killed in a duel. The family were devastated. Arrangements were made to bring Sir Thomas’ body home, and it was laid in state at St Donats Castle. But this was just the beginning of their woes.


According to folklore, Sir Thomas Stradling’s nurse, who had raised him since he was a baby, wished to pay her respects. She was invited to see his body in one of the state rooms at the castle. Gliding across the dimly lit room in which the coffin stood, she raised the lid to hold the hand of her young charge one last time. But as she reached inside the coffin, she gasped, stopped short, turned and made a sharp exit.


She was convinced that the man in the coffin was not Sir Thomas. It was animposter. She knew that, as a small boy, Sir Thomas had lost a finger on his left hand; it had been bitten off by (of all things) a donkey. But the man inside the coffin had all his fingers intact. Gossip was rife on the subject, and for years afterwards, locals visiting St Donats
Church would point at Sir Thomas’ tomb and declare, ‘That is where the imposter lies.’


Sir Thomas had left no heir, but before making his verbal agreement with Sir John Tyrwhitt, he had written a will. In it, he had left the castle and his entire estate to his cousin, Bussey Mansel, the 4th baron of Margam. It was said, however, that Bussey had visited St Donats Castle after Sir Thomas’ death, where he had been confronted by the ghost of one of the Stradling ancestors. The ghost had declared that it would never countenance the castle passing to a Mansel. Terrified, he turned his horse and fled as fast as it would carry him, never again to return to the castle.


It would be nice to believe that this property dispute was settled by a ghost, but in reality it became one of the most protracted and expensive courtroom battles of its day. It remained in litigation for over sixty years. Ultimately, St Donats Castle did pass to the Tyrwhitts, much to the dismay of the people of St Donats. In fact, it is
claimed that the vicar of St Donats Church was so incensed that ‘in his fury’ he destroyed a windmill and two watermills. That’s a lot of fury for a village parson. It’s always the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.


If you have enjoyed this blog, then you might well enjoy the brand new book, launched only this week, from which it came. It is called More legends and folklore from Barry, Bridgend and the Vale and is available to buy by clicking this link.

The author; Graham Loveluck-Edwards (me) is a historian, author, columnist and broadcaster specialising in the history and legends of Wales.

This item was also published by The Glamorgan Star newspaper.

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Discussing the ancient monasteries of the Vale of Glamorgan

Did you know that it is likely that Christianity in Wales started in Llantwit Major? That monks from institutions in the Vale of Glamorgan between the fifth and sixth centuries established ministries throughout Britain, Ireland and Northern France?

In this video I discuss this fascinating history with author and historian Philip Morris. We look at the ancient monasteries of the county from the fifth century in Llantwit Major, Llancarfan and Llandough and at pioneers such as St Illtyd, St Cadoc and St Doggo and their influence across Europe.

We look at how different the culture and reach of the Celtic Church was from what came after it. How huge institutions were established, how ideas were spread throughout Europe, how inclusive these communities were and the key role of women as well as men at their healm.

We also look at the impact of the arrival of the Normans, the medieval period and in particular Ewenny Priory.

We discuss the legacy these great institutions left. Everything from the establishment of Cowbridge Grammar School to architectural clues at buildings we can visit today. As well as gems like the story of the miracle of Ewenny, how Corntown got its name, why so many towns in Brittany have Welsh sounding names, why the latin inscribed on the Celtic stones in Llantwit Major is inaccurate and many many more fascinating snippets which anyone with an interest in the local history of South Wales will find truly fascinating.

This video is an episode of ‘History on your doorstep’, first broadcast on Bro Radio on Monday 22 August 2022. Presented by author and historian Graham Loveluck-Edwards cataloguing the history of the Vale of Glamorgan. I hope you enjoy them. And if you do, please subscribe to my YouTube channel and share them on social media.

Monks from the Vale of Glamorgan established foundations across Britain and Northern France
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The Original Maid of Sker

The original Maid of Sker, wooed by a penniless harpist

I am sure many students of literature will be familiar with the romantic novel by RD Blackmore called ‘The Maid of Sker’. You may or may not also be aware that the author grew up in the village of Nottage near Porthcawl. It is Sker house at the end of the dunes in Kenfig that was his inspiration for the story. The name of his novel, however, was borrowed from a much older Welsh legend from a book called Y Ferch o’r Scer, which was translated into English by William Davies of Neath in 1806.

It is claimed that the story originated from an air composed by a local harpist by the name of Thomas Evans. As is the usual way, the story has been further embellished by subsequent retellings and whether it is entirely true is disputed, not least by the family it is about. The characters themselves however are indisputably real.

Isaac Williams of Sker had two daughters. The youngest, Elizabeth, was tall, beautiful, and elegant, and she loved to dance. She lived for the annual Mabsant (festival of the saint). One of the traditions of the Mabsant was that a harpist would be brought in to play throughout the night for the younger members of the community to dance until dawn.

One especially popular harpist was Thomas Evans of the parish of Newton and Nottage, the man credited with writing the song that this legend is based on. The sight of the beautiful Elizabeth Williams, dancing so elegantly through the night, caught his eye and quickened his pulse. He was utterly transfixed with her, and to his joy she made it obvious that his attraction was reciprocated. By the time the sun rose in the morning they were lovers.

When Isaac Williams got wind of this courtship, he was furious. After all, he was a gentleman farmer and lord of the manor, and Thomas Evans was a mere carpenter. He could not possibly be considered a worthy suitor for his daughter, no matter how good a harpist he was. Undeterred, Evans hired a horse and carriage and rode out to Sker House at night, in the hope that he could persuade Elizabeth to elope with him. But his plan was scuppered when he woke the dogs, who started barking and gave the game away. In response Isaac refused to let Elizabeth leave the house, and she was kept a prisoner in her room under lock and key until she was married off to Mr Kirkhouse of Neath.

She never got on with the husband that had been forced on her, and always begrudged him and her father for breaking her heart. She never forgot about her first true love and sought him out wherever there was a Mabsant in the area. She would always find a way to contrive to meet him in secret. On one occasion they were even caught together by her husband.

Eventually she could not take the pain of being without her true love anymore and died of a broken heart. She was buried 6th January 1776 in Llansamlet. Thomas Evans pined for her for so long that he did not take a wife until he had turned fifty. He died in 1819 and is buried in Newton churchyard.

There are obvious parallels between this story and the far more famous one about ‘The Maid of Cefn Ydfa’. May be the Welsh bards liked telling stories about the beautiful daughters of wealthy families falling head over heals in love with penniless bards.

This item is an exert from my book Legends and Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale. Available to buy here.

You may be interested to know that my blogs are published in The Glamorgan Star newspaper.

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The railways and viaducts of the Vale of Glamorgan

In the video on the link below I chat with train enthusiast and local historian, Gavin Douglas OBE about the birth of the railways in the county of the Vale of Glamorgan.

We look at when they were built? How they were built? Who built them? and why? The scheme to build a railway line and port at the estuary of the river Ogmore at Ogmore by Sea and why it never happened.

We also look at the iconic viaduct at Porthkerry and the disasters which beset it. How it collapsed multiple times and how it was rebuilt and preserved to this day. This video is an episode in the History on your doorstep series. Written, and presented by Welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and broadcast on Bro Radio. In this series of radio programmes and accompanying videos, I examine a topic of history local to the Vale of Glamorgan and interview experts who give us unparalleled insight and explanation. I hope you enjoy them. And if you do, please subscribe to this channel and share them on social media.

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How the people of Porthkerry preserve their ancient church

It is one thing to appreciate the beauty of ancient buildings but its a different thing altogether to roll up your sleeves and do your bit to keep them looking that way. But here in Porthkerry we are truly blessed to have had this army of volunteers come to our rescue.

St Curigs is a pretty little 15th century church above the country park in Porthkerry and these volunteers have come to help us lime wash it.

Lime washing is an ancient craft. Since the Romans (and possibly before) people have been weather proofing their buildings with one form of lime wash or another. The distinctive matt white appearance it gives everything is a scene one could describe as quite quintessential in the countryside.

In the Victorian era it fell out of fashion. A desire for more Gothic looking buildings led to a preference for bare stone work. Preferably festooned with creeping ivy. Which may look pretty, but sadly does nothing for the walls. Not only does it let the damp in but it often compromises the mortar in the walls and can lead to the most terrible structural problems.

When St Curig’s Porthkerry were in receipt of a grant from Cadw to do some much needed repair work, it was a condition of the grant that the church be lime washed as it would once have always been. Not necessarily to the liking of all attached to the church at the time, they went along with it and all was well until it was time to apply a fresh coat.

No local contractor was prepared to touch lime wash and those who were prepared to put in bids for the work wanted to charge the cost of a small house. So how to progress?

The parish decided to make it a community event.

Come along and volunteer. Get full instruction, all the equipment you need to do it safely, and try your hand at a craft which has been employed by our ancestors right the way back over thousands of years. And as you can see from the photos that is exactly what happens. And it is a lot of fun. Those in the congregation unable to assist directly bring along cakes and rolls, teas and coffees and snacks and refreshments. Everybody tucks in and has a picnic around the ancient cross (where John Wesley is said to have preached) and a great day is had by all.

And the end result; a weather proof church. And one that looks dazzlingly resplendent in the August sunshine. Now just a small matter of the tower. That I fear is an altogether more industrial process with cherry pickers and hard hats. But we do what we must.