This is a really tragic, old legend from St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan. The back story of an oft reported aparation of a white lady ghost in a field near West Orchard Castle. With a lot of historical context.
We hear about the second crusades, the De Clare family, the Berkerolles family, the Umphraville family, and of course the local castles at the heart of the drama.
The general gist of the story is Jasper Berkerolles of West Orchard Castle marries very well, but always harbours doubts that he is punching above his weight. And when he has to go to war he becomes consumed with jealously that she is having infidelities with his neighbour. When he returns home he is so tormented he condemns her to a gruesome death.
If you, like me, love a bit of Glamorgan history, folklore and legend, you may be interested in joining me at any number of talks I am giving in the coming months. As I am a guest speaker at most of these I have given details of the organisers so where tickets are required you know how to get them. Hopefully something for everyone here.
May Walks In The Vale Of Glamorgan 2023
with Chris Jones & Guests
7th , 13th, 20th and 27th May
After the incredible success of the 10 Days in May walking festival in 2022, Chris Jones is back with another walking festival through some of the Vale of Glamorgan’s most beautiful and historic locations. The theme is very much the same as last year with guided walks, talks about points of historical interest along the way (provided by yours truly) and some surprise appearances as character actors bring to life the stories associated with the area. It is tremendous fun.
These are the walks in this years event.
Sunday 7th May – The Iolo Morganwg Heritage Walk – Starting and finishing in Cowbridge. Meet for breakfast at The Maple and Bean (opposite Waitrose) at 10am.
Saturday 13th May – Llantwit Major and the Heritage Coast – Starting and finishing in Llantwit Major – Meet for breakfast 9.30am at the Piccolo Blu Cafe.
Saturday 20th May – St Athan and Gileston Walk – Start and finish at Gileston Manor where we will meet for breakfast at 9.30am.
Saturday 27th May – Dunraven Coastal Path Walk – Meet for breakfast at 9.30am at The Three Golden Cups in Southerndown.
This is Mynydd Ysgyryd Fawr (or in English; The Skirrid). It lies north of Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. It is also known as ‘The Holy Mountain’.
Technically it is a hill not a mountain but the Welsh word ‘mynydd’ doesn’t have such a strict definition criteria as its English equivalent. It just means big hill.
It has a famous legend attached to it. It was said that at the exact moment of the crucifixion the whole mountain shook until the central section collapsed giving it the distinctive outline we see today.
The name ‘ysgyryd’ is derived from the Welsh word for earth quake.
In the medieval period it was a popular place of pilgrimage and at certain points of the path you can take if you are climbing it, there are old stone steps to help the pilgrims with their ascent. It is well worth the trip as the view from the top is amazing. You can see across 4 counties.
There is also a large flat stone, possibly a Neolithic monument, known as the Devil’s Stone half way up it. This time referencing another legend that the collapsed part of the mountain was used as a seat by Satan himself.
I have quite a strong connection with the village of Laleston, near Bridgend. I grew up in the parish, went to the primary school and sang in the church choir. So speaking as someone with that background who is mad about legends and folklore and the origins of local place names, you can imagine my delight at stumbling across a legend about the origins of the name “Laleston” (or “Trelales” in Welsh). And my embarrassment at only now discovering it.
I am indebted to Bill Howells from the Llynfi Valley History Society for alerting me to it.
The story goes that the village is named after a man called Lales (pronounced “Lalless”) who was a very talented stone mason.
He was not indigenous Welsh but was captured in the holy land during the crusades. He was brought to Wales by his capturer and was put out to general duties on his master’s estate.
However the opportunity to demonstrate his true skills did not present itself quickly. After he had been in Wales for the best part of a year, it came when a stone wall enclosing a field of livestock collapsed during a storm. He was set to work to make good what he could before the animals escaped while a local stone mason was sent for.
When the local craftsman arrived at the scene the wall was not simply patched up as expected. The repairs had been completed and had been done so to a really high standard using techniques which the local man had never seen before.
The stonemason was amazed and asked Lalless how he had done the work and for him to teach the stonemason his unique abilities. Lalless unable to speak a word of Welsh and the stonemason unable to speak his language, the two men communicated solely through mime and gesture and through plans and sketches drawn in the mud with a stick.
They bonded over mutual respect and an appreciation of one another’s skills and through their love of stone.
In time they learned each other’s languages and became firm friends. Lalless converted to Christianity and became popular with local people. He and his friend the local stonemason worked on the construction of many cottages and farms in the area and most particularly the church that has ever since been the parish church of Laleston. But sadly, before the work could be completed he died.
Such was his popularity amongst the people of the village he had helped to build, that the village has ever since been known as Lalless’ town.
It is, I’m sure you would agree, a rather wonderful story. And it does go some way to explaining why the Lale part of “Laleston” is pronounced “Lall” like pal not lale like pale.
Beyond that, how likely is it to be true?
It is hard to say. Some folklore is dreamt up by bards to entertain their audience. But there is also a lot of folklore which has a truth somewhere at the heart of it. Even if evidence to back it up is thin on the ground.
We know that several local knights fought at various crusades. The 12th Century Archdeacon of Brecon and chronicler Gerald of Wales boasted in his writing at how effective he was at recruiting crusaders from amongst both Welsh and Anglo/Norman nobility in our area.
The De Chaworth brothers of Ogmore, Sir Richard Siward of Llanblethian, Sir Hugh Jonnys and Jasper Berkerolles of St Athan to name but a few. And they were lauded for their military prowess. In fact Henry II of England wrote to the Byzantine emperor to praise their military fervour, stating that “they do not hesitate to do battle”. So there is no shortage of candidates to have brought Lalless to our shores.
It wasn’t common place to capture ordinary people even skilled craftsmen and bring them back to put them to work. However kidnapping the heirs of wealthy families and holding them for ransom was very common place. So if this story is true it is more likely this was why we was brought here. And if the ransome was not paid and he was helpful to have around the place then why not keep him on.
Like so many of our fantastic legends, the mystery surrounding its origins is as tantalising as the story itself. And I love that.
Dunraven Castle used to stand on the Glamorgan coast of the Bristol Channel. Not far from Bridgend on the Heritage Coast by Southerndown beach. It has a fascinating history dating back to the Iron Age but nothing is more spectacular about this place than this legend. It is the story of the wreckers of Dunraven. The Lord of the Manor; Walter Vaughan saw his life fall apart when two of his children and his wife died prematurely. He turned to drink and gambling and squandered his fortune away. Then, when at his lowest ebb he turned for help to a henchman, a local pirate, smuggler and wrecker called Matt of the Iron-Hand who had a score to settle with his new partner in crime.
Together, they terrorised sea farers in the Bristol Channel in the sixteenth century.
They would tie lanterns to the sheep grazing on the cliff tops to mimic the lights of Newton, to lure ships onto the jagged teeth of Tuskar Rock. It kept the scavenging, coastal-living folk of the Vale of Glamorgan in a plentiful supply of plunder, washed up on their beaches from the wreckage of numerous merchant ships.
In this video I tell the best-known version of the legend. It deals with grief, greed, avarice and the final tragic outcome when all these things are allowed to come together.
I also answer the obvious question; is this a true story? What sources do we have for it? And where does Iolo Morgannwg fit into all this?
This was all filmed on location at Dunraven Castle on a cold but clear day.
I have always been fascinated by the various legends about that most unpopular of Kings of England; Edward II. Hated by the English for losing Scotland at the battle of Bannockburn, hated by the Welsh for being the first English man appointed to the office of Prince of Wales. Hated by the French for the treatment of his wife Isabella (the she wolf of France) and hated by the Barons for pretty much everything.
Recently the legend about him being murdered by having a red hot poker shoved up his bottom reached a whole new audience when the actor Danny Dyer (of Eastenders fame) appeared on BBC TV’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ and discovered he was descended from one of the King’s illegitimate children. But there are loads more legends about him and many of them are set in our little corner of Wales, here in Glamorgan as this is where he hid, with his lover/favourite Hugh Le Despenser (Earl of Glamorgan) from the army of his vengeful wife.
So I have made a film about them.
With the help of some experts in their field we unpick the truth from the stories to piece together Edwards final months of freedom in 1326 and his probable murder in 1327.
You can watch it here 👇
Despite the fact that the king himself kept a journal we have very little accurate, contemporary account of the events leading up to his capture in Llantrisant. But we do have a couple of spectacular legends that fill in some of the gaps.
The one we focus on was published in full in the South Wales Daily News on 29th August 1899 by a man from the hilltop village of Llangynwyd near Maesetg who called himself Ap Cadrawd. He claimed that he had uncovered a genuine historical account written by a bard called Morien which told the full story.
The narrative of the article was that Edward II and his lover Hugh Le Despenser had fled London and sought refuge in Neath Abbey. There they persuaded the Abbot of Neath to plea on their behalf but in doing so, he inadvertently gave away where they were hiding. So, they fled again and attempted to find their way to Despenser’s Castle in Caerphilly but knowing there were soldiers looking for them everywhere they had to stay away from busy roads and big towns where they could easily be spotted. Thus, they ended up in Llangynwyd as it lies on the Glamorgan Ridgeway (which you may remember me writing about previously). The ancient road that runs from Margam to Caerphilly through that very parish.
Ap Cadrawd writes “while in hiding from his enemies at Gaily Lenor Fawr… in order to keep up his character as a Welsh peasant, Edward accepted employment as a thresher of corn at the farm where he was afforded temporary shelter from the fury of Isabella and Mortimer, the farmer meanwhile keeping watch for suspicious characters in the locality- should any such characters appear the fugitive King hid himself in the branches of an oak tree near by, after- wards known as “Cadair Edward”, whence he saw on several occasions bauds of soldiers in search of him…”
The legend then concludes with something of a bombshell;
“in Bridgend a contemporary brought to light another interesting find. This find places beyond a shadow of doubt the truth of one at least of Morien’s statements. An inscribed stone is said to be the find which sets forth the fact that Edward II did really and actually come to the farm of Gelly Lenor Fawr. After centuries we are told that the stone has been revealed by the hand of Nature herself by the blowing down of the old tree”
Obviously, this story has a lot of over tones of the one about Charles I hiding in the Royal Oak. However, there is one inescapable fact in all of this. There genuinely is a stone. You need to work quite hard to find it these days, but here is a picture of it.
Does the presence of this stone actually prove anything? And what of the one at Pant-Y-Brad in Llantrisant which comes to us courtesy of the same legend?
We take a look at both of them in depth and talk about the likely truth in the film. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but don’t hold your breath…
If you are interested in the legends and folklore of Glamorgan then how can I not promote any of my many books on the subject. They are available from my website at discounted prices you won’t find in the bookshops or on Amazon. For more information pop along to my online bookshop on this link.
I am indebted to the various history societies who supported me with making of this film and especially the co-operation of The Berkeley Castle Estate.