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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 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 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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Two sunny days and a light breeze please

In the 1700s if you wanted to be sure of some good weather for the weekend, there were people from whom you could buy it! And according to some new research, Barry was full of them.

Most people back then, sailors and sea farers in particular, were extremely superstitious. This played into the hands of a small group of people who you might either call ‘enterprising’ or ‘unscrupulous’ depending on your own moral compass.

They would ‘sell’ weather and I have found records of three such people who operated in the Barry and eastern Vale area in the eighteenth century. 

The first was called ‘Modryb Sina’ (which means Aunty Sina). She lived somewhere in the parish of Cadoxton. If you sailed out of Lavernock or Sully, for a fee, she would sell you ‘a fair wind’. Enough to fill your sails and give your vessel speed on the waves, but not enough to put you in danger. It seems that she peddled her wares for over 20 years so she must have been good.

But she obviously was not quite as good as another chap who lived on Barry Island called ‘Ewythr Dewi’ (or Uncle David). He not only sold weather to local sailors but was known to travel as far a field as Swansea as his ‘fair weather’ was in such demand. His reputation for doing a good line in weather was impeccable amongst the superstitious sailors of the Welsh ports on the Bristol Channel. 

Both of these people lived and worked in Welsh speaking parts of the Vale, and therefore catered for Welsh speaking sailors. But what if you were an English speaking sailor? Have no fear, you were catered for by another local man going by the name of ‘Bill O’Breaksea’ who offered a similar service in Aberthaw (which was an English speaking part of the Vale). However, we cannot be sure when he operated as records of him are more sketchy. Chances are it was around the same point in history or slightly earlier, when Aberthaw was having its boom years, trading with the merchants of Minehead and providing the people of Bristol with their supply of butter.

There is also folklore of wives who had grown weary of drunken, slothful or abusive husbands going to these people to pay for a good storm the next time they put to sea. To rid themselves of them once and for all. Probably cheaper than a divorce. Like I said, depending on your moral compass.

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400 years before Gavin & Stacey

What was Barry like in the 1500s and 1600s?

A must watch for history buffs in Barry and surrounding areas in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

I gave this talk to the children of Romilly Primary School in Barry on 3rd February. They are learning about the Tudor period in history so I thought I would bring it home to Barry for them.

I cover:

▶️What Barry was like in the Tudor period

▶️What was so different back then

▶️What it was like being a child growing up in the sixteenth and seventeenth century

▶️What children did for fun, 

▶️where they lived, 

▶️what they ate

▶️I use John Speeds ‘Map of Glamorganshire’ and John Leland’s ‘Itinerary in Wales’ as sources

▶️I discuss the mystery of the disappearing castle at Porthkerry

And they asked lots of questions!

Great to share this video with your kids if they are local and learning about this era in history. 

Sound quality isn’t the best as it was recorded in an echoy classroom. If you struggle with it, click the CC button for subtitles.

Click this link to watch the video on YouTube: