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St Dwynwen the Patron Saint of Lovers in Wales and Welsh bardic romance

The 25th January is the feast day of a 6th century Welsh saint called St Dwynwen. She is the patron saint of Welsh lovers and her own story is suitably romantic.

But who was St Dwynwen? Why is she the patron saint of lovers in Wales? What is her story? Where did that story originate? And more importantly how romantic are the Welsh?

In the video below from the History on your doorstep series we answer these and many other questions. We talk about her fascinating family tree being one of 36 children born of a family full of Kings and Queens and Saints. One of the saintly tribes of Wales. Her father King Brychan (also known as St Brychan) her sister St Gwladys, her nephew St Cadoc, founder of the Clas monastery in Llancarfan and the saint which Cadoxton in Barry is named after.

We also look at the bardic tradition in Wales and some wonderful romantic Welsh stories. Starting with the medieval romantic stories of the Mabinogion like Colhuwch and Olwen and Pwyll and Rhiannon in the first branch. We look at trends in tales of Welsh lovers and the techniques used by bards to bring them to life and look at them in the context of stories from Glamorgan. We also examine what makes them quite different from Romantic stories from ancient Greek folklore and other parts of Europe.

Specifically we look at the folklore behind the naming of the Captains Wife pub in Sully, and the better known romantic stories of the Maid of Cefn Ydfa and the Maid of Sker.

This video is a discussion between historian, author and broadcaster Graham Loveluck-Edwards and the history blogger Claire Miles (AKA Hisdoryan). First broadcast on Bro Radio on Monday 23rd January 2023. We explore the role of the bards in Wales, common themes in Welsh romantic folklore, the creative devices used by the bards to make their stories more credible and engaging.

For further reading on the themes and topics explored in this video I have written several books on local legends and folklore. More information available at https://grahamloveluckedwards.com/shop/

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Old photos of the great houses, mansions and castles of the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend taken between 1890 and 1955

Here is my latest VLOG. It’s a compilation of vintage photographs of some of Glamorgan’s most significant residences. Taken before they got knocked down or converted into hotels, golf courses, flats or schools.

Have you ever scrolled through Rightmove or Zoopla with the filters set at over a million pounds? Well if you were to have done the price equivalent of that (allowing for inflation)  in the early 20th century these are the pictures of the dream homes you would have found in the counties of Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan on the South Wales coast. 

I have trawled through the archives of old photos and postcards for early photographs of castles, country estates, mansions, manor houses, baronial courts, great houses, town houses and quaint thatched cottages from the many villages that surround towns like Cowbridge, Bridgend, Pontyclun, Llantrisant, Llantwit Major and Cardiff. In their day they were described as ‘gentleman’s residences’ or ‘country piles’ and they were the homes of some of the oldest and most famous aristocratic families in Glamorgan. The county set. Families names like Carnes, Nichols, Lewis, Boothby, Edmondes, Picton-Tuberville. Even a maharaja!

Many of the houses in this video are now lost to us. Either in ruins or completely demolished. The most famous example being Dunraven Castle. Others have been split up into smaller houses or flats like Crossways House. Some are now hotels like Miskin Manor or golf clubs like Wenvoe Castle. In the case of St Donats Castle one is now a university college.

This video shows them in their prime, when they were in their hey day.

So if you like a bit of nostalgia, old photographs, vintage or period living, big posh houses, South Wales history or anything related, you will love this. And maybe, you actually live in one of these places. Let me know if you do.

I hope you enjoy it. Just click the play button below. There is no commentary but there is some soothing copyright free music.

If you are interested in the history of the Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan area you might be interested in my books on the subject. Volumes 1 & 2 of ‘Legends and Folklore from Barry, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan’ are out now and available from Amazon and all good bookshops. Or you can buy both volumes at a discounted prices direct from me. Just click here for more information.

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A traditional Welsh Christmas

Christmas and New Year celebrations have changed a lot in Wales down the centuries. In this video history blogger Claire Miles (who writes the Hisdoryan blog) and history author & broadcaster Graham Loveluck-Edwards talk about the sort of Christmases our ancestors would have recognised. 

We take a whistle stop tour of all things Christmassy from Welsh history. The customs and traditions people observed. Things like;

Toasting the Ox on Christmas Eve

Wassailing 

The Aderyn Pig

The bird with the grey beak

The Plygain

A Tudor Christmas dinner

Calenig

The Mari Llwyd

First Footing

Hunting the wren

When Christmas was banned

The origins of Father Christmas

The very first Eisteddfod

The Abergavenny Christmas Massacre

We also look at some amazing Christmas stories like  Mallt-y-Nos’, Megan’ the Gwrach-Y-Rhibyn of St Donats and the sitings of the Cwn Annwn in the Vale at this time of year.

We also cover a whole host of ancient Welsh superstitions based around the festive period. Things that would bring you good and bad luck, ways to find love, to be sure of a good harvest and those ever fearsome portents of doom. To be fair most of them are predictors of death, but Some of them will have you laughing hysterically.

We really hope you enjoy this video. And if you do, feel free to share it on social media. But remember to subscribe to my YouTube channel as well. This programme was originally recorded for broadcast on Bro Radio. Click to play the video. First broadcast on Bro Radio.

Read more about Welsh festivals and traditions in my books.

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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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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 Miracle of St Donats

The stone cross on the road between Llantwit Major and St Donats marking the site of the ‘miracle’

I was recently contacted by someone living in Australia who was trying to retrace their roots growing up in the Vale of Glamorgan. She was asking about stories she had heard as a child of a supposed miracle in the coastal village of Marcross between Llantwit Major and Wick and wanted to know if I knew any details. As it turns out, I do. Thanks to some rather wonderful local folklore on the subject. In fact, the name of the village; Marcross tells a bit of the tale in itself as it is an abbreviation of ‘Mark-of-the cross’.

The legend goes that a traveller was walking along the road to Wick. His journey had been uneventful until he was just a few yards from St Donats Castle. There he was inextricably struck down to his knees by the sight of an apparition of Christ on the cross on the bow of a tree. When the vision had subsided, he ran to tell the villagers what he had seen. They ridiculed him and laughed at his story, so he took them back to the spot where he claimed it had happened. To everyone’s amazement the crucifixion scene he had described had been indelibly burned on to the fabric of the tree.

Gasps all-round, I’m sure.

Stories like these generally originate from the medieval period. Or older than that again. This one however is quite unusual as it originates from 1559. And in its day, it caused quite a storm.

The time in question was during the reign of Elizabeth I when Britain had for some years been a protestant country. The Stradlings of St Donats Castle however were openly Catholic and when this story surfaced Sir Thomas Stradling sailed dangerously close to the wind when he declared it ‘a miracle’. He then made matters worse for himself when he ordered effigies of this crucifixion scene be made from the wood of this tree and that they be sold to pilgrims. Elizabeth, I had spies everywhere – in fact in the Vale of Glamorgan she must have had Catholics spying on other Catholics as it was Thomas Carne of Ewenny who dobbed him in.

He was arrested and incarcerated in the Tower of London while the remains of his tree were dragged to London and destroyed. But not before a team of esteemed clerics had very vocally debunked any possibilities that there was anything miraculous about it. He would undoubtedly have faced execution as a heretic if not for a very swift and emphatic retraction and apology from Sir Thomas. The queen showed him lenience and agreed to release him if he agreed to pay a fine of £1,000 marks. Which he did.

He can’t have been quite as remorseful as he claimed to be however. Shortly after his release he erected a plinth of dressed stone with a crucifix on it, at the point on the wall around his estate where the ‘miracle’ had supposedly happened. Clearly a man who liked to live dangerously.

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Keeping up with the Joneses in 17th C Fonmon

Fonmon Castle
Fonmon Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan

This often overlooked, gem of a stately home near Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan has an incredible and little known history going back 800 years. And it is still inhabited to this day.

In this video, I talk about Fonmon Castle with Sir Brooke Boothby (BART).  

It is his ancestral home. We also hear about his ancestors who can be traced back to the 9th Century and who have lived in Fonmon since the civil war. He reveals some amazing history covering topics as diverse as:

The Norman invasion of Morgannwg

The early days of the 12th Century castle

The St John, Seyes and Umfraville families

Cousins to Henry VIII live at Fonmon

The English Civil war

The most powerful man in Britain lives at Fonmon

Oliver and Richard Cromwell

The Restoration

John Wesley and the Methodists

‘Wild’ Robert Jones and Rococo architecture

The Viking origins of the Boothby family

The power brokers of pre-industrial Wales

 First broadcast on Bro Radio in June 2022 as part of the ‘History on your doorstep’ series.

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When England was run from a small castle in the Vale of Glamorgan

Colonel Phillip Jones of Fonmon Castle

One of the most fascinating and oft overlooked characters in Welsh and British history is Colonel Phillip Jones. He rose to be one of the most powerful men in the entire kingdom and managed to thrive during one of the nations most turbulent periods in history – the English Civil War.

His influence and power was such that it led to questions being asked in parliament as to why it was that “England was being run from a small castle in Wales“.

So who was he? How did he become so powerful? and how was it that despite being a major player under Cromwell during the Commonwealth, that his status continued unhampered when Charles II came to the throne during the Restoration? And how did he manage to achieve that unthinkable goal of any power broker in this period of history; to die of old age in comfortable surroundings with his fortunes and reputation in tact?

And more to the point – how is it that hardly anyone has ever heard of him?

He was born in Swansea in 1618 to a middle ranking ‘county’ family who lived at the Great House (now long gone). They were Calvinist protestants and this influence gave him a natural affinity towards the parliamentarians. As the seeds of dissent were being sewn which led to the English Civil War in 1642 he joined the ‘New Model Army’ under the command of Lord Fairfax where he made quite a name for himself.

Many of the more senior aristocratic families and establishment figures of South Wales were fighting on the King’s side of this war, so when the parliamentarians made gains in the area it was a great opportunity for the likes of Phillip Jones and his more famous counterpart Bussey Mansel to earn fast promotion and patronage.

Jones was appointed Governor of Swansea in 1645, he was promoted to Colonel in the New Model Army in 1646, was made Governor of Cardiff in 1649, became MP for Breconshire in 1650 and then was simultaneously voted MP for both Monmouthshire and Glamorgan in 1654 (he chose Glamorgan) and again in 1656 he was simultaneously voted MP for Brecon and Glamorgan (again he chose Glamorgan). He was appointed Governor of Charterhouse in 1658 and Commander of the militia of Cardiff Castle in 1659.

He also became very close to Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell rather famously fell out with most of the people who were close to him prior to the Civil War once it was over. Even Fairfax turned against him and was instrumental in the second civil war that culminated in Wales at the battle of St Fagans. But Jones was close to Cromwell before, during and after the conflict. We know this because there are records of him visiting Jones at his home in Swansea in 1648 when his armies were moving west to Pembrokeshire (a major royalist stronghold). Then after the civil war in 1654 Cromwell appointed Jones ‘Comptroller’ of his household – which effectively put him in charge of the running of his personal estates. He also appointed him to the privy council and he made him Phillip Lord Jones on 10th December 1657 so he could sit in the upper house of Cromwell’s parliament. So they clearly remained ‘pally’ throughout. In fact Oliver Cromwell was Godfather to Phillip Jones’ son (also called Oliver!)

It was Phillip Jones who organised Oliver Cromwell’s funeral as superintendent on 23rd November 1658.

All of these promotions did wonders for Jones’ income. In 1640 he was estimated at earning £20 a year. By 1658 that had risen to £2,000 a year. Something which put him in a position to be able to upgrade his residence to something more in keeping with a man of his station. And so it was that he bought Fonmon Castle near Rhoose in the Vale of Glamorgan from the StJohn family who had fallen on hard times and were selling off quite a few of their estates at the time.

Being so close to Oliver Cromwell had served him well, but when you are close to a figure so powerful and divisive, it would be easy to find yourself vulnerable and exposed after their death. But Jones, if anything, wound up being even closer to Oliver Cromwell’s successor; his son Richard Cromwell. It was from this period that we get the quote about England being run from a small castle in Wales, and it was also said at the time that “Richard Cromwell will only take advice from Jones and Thurloe and would do nothing without them” – referring to John Thurloe who had been English Secretary of State under Oliver Cromwell.

It was not all plain sailing however. These were very volatile times and you cannot become so powerful a man in the seventeenth century without making some enemies along the way. When Richard Cromwell had his spectacular fall in 1659 (earning him the nickname ‘Tumble Down Dick’) Jones was very much exposed. History was about to overtake him in a twist of events which saw many of his counterparts destroyed but which he – rather miraculously it would seem – not only survived, but actually benefitted from.

The restoration.

The balance of power had moved dramatically against the commonwealth and Charles II was crowned king. Britain was once again a monarchy, and Charles II was a pretty vengeful king. He wasted no time rounding up those parliamentarians who had executed his father for treason 11 years earlier. It was not a good time to be known for having been close to the Cromwells.

At first things didn’t look too great. A group of his enemies brought a series of charges of embezzlement against him, accusing him of having stolen £139,000 in ‘Tythes’ owed to the church. He was also rather randomly accused of “having carried away the organ of St Mary’s Church, Swansea”. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support any of these charges but the justice system back then was not quite so reliant on such things as it is now. He came dangerously close to a very sticky end.

He was impeached but never stood trial.

Somehow, Jones found himself in the clear. The new king had intervened on his behalf, and went on to appoint him to be High Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1671. He was more than likely saved by the fact that he was not personally a signatory to Charles I’s death warrant, nor did he play any part in his trial. Also, throughout the period he was in governance he did not take the opportunity others had done, to plunder the king’s estates, nor to take lands from the defeated royalists. In fact he had treated them rather well.

Co-incidentally John Thurloe (who we mentioned earlier) also came out of this new order unexpectedly well. He was initially arrested for treason but never went to trial. He was ultimately given responsibility for foreign policy in Charles II government.

Phillip Jones saw out his days in the leafy and secluded splendour of Fonmon Castle where he died peacefully in his bed on 5th September 1674.

If you want to know more about this amazing character from the Vale of Glamorgan’s history, I will be interviewing one of his direct descendants; Sir Brooke Boothby (Bart) Vice-Lord Lieutenant of South Glamorgan as part of my next episode of ‘History On Your Doorstep’ for Bro Radio which will be all about Fonmon Castle. It is going out on Monday 27th June at 7pm.

If you want to hear that interview and learn what else he has to say about this most wiley of ancestors tune in, or listen again on line or on the app or on my YouTube channel which is packed with videos and podcasts about Welsh history. Please subscribe to it.

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The quirky family of Cadoc

No matter how embarrassing your father may have appeared to be when you were growing up, compared to St Cadoc, you had it easy. ‘Who is St Cadoc?’ you may be asking. I am sure you have noticed the many references to ‘Cadoc’ or ’Cadog’ around South Wales. In the names of churches, streets, wells, houses, schools, community centres and hospitals. To say nothing of the village of Cadoxton.

Historically, he was one of the most revered saints in the early Christian church. It gives you an idea how significant a figure he was when you consider that he was born in the latter quarter of the fifth century. Over 1,500 years ago. And we are still naming things after him today.

The life of St Cadoc is recorded in the ancient works of the Cambro British Saints. His story is the first ever to reference the now legendary King Arthur ‘the Great’ of Camelot. Amongst his achievements are the founding of the ‘Clas’ monastery at Llancarfan near Cowbridge as well as many churches throughout Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany. He also managed to fit in time for the odd miracle. Even as a baby it is claimed that he made the water in the font he was baptised in turn into milk.

All these achievements, however, were in spite of a really dysfunctional upbringing. It was so weird, it wouldn’t look out of place in a Channel 5 documentary

First of all, he was not the only saint in the family. Pretty well his whole family were saints. Then you have his father. All I can say is, I think the bar for sainthood must have been set low back then.

He was a brute, a drunkard, and a pirate. And randomly; a king. He was called Gwynllyw although somehow that got Anglicised in later history to Woolos. He is credited with being the founding father of the city of Newport and the cathedral there is dedicated to him to this day. He fell head over heels in love with Gwladys, the daughter of King Brychan (later Anglicised to Brecon). He wanted to marry her, but Brychan refused him. So Gwynllyw took an army of 300 men to knock on his castle gates and kidnapped her.

His passion for her never seemed to faulter, even in old age. There is an account that in later life after being converted to Christianity by his son; Cadoc, he tried to seek a prayerful retreat on a desolate mountain. His endeavours however would perpetually fail as he could not overcome his carnal urges towards her and could not help himself from continually running back down the mountain to her bed.

If you thought he made a rotten husband, he was hardly parent of the month either. There is also a story that one day, he gave his infant son: St Cadoc away to a total stranger in exchange for a cow while out on a drinking spree. We’ve all done it. Oh no. Hold on, we haven’t, have we?

But against all the odds, Cadoc grew up to be a cornerstone of early Christian mission in northern Europe and became famous across the known world for his wisdom. In the modern Catholic church, he is still patron saint of burns and skin complaints, so he is the one to pray to if you are bothered by such things. His father is patron saint of Newport and pirates. No words needed.