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The mysteries of Ewenny Priory

Ewenny Priory is recognised by countless textbooks as the finest example of unmodernised, Norman ecclesiastical work in Britain. But despite its renown, it still holds many secrets. Not least of which, why a place supposedly built to house just 12 monks and a prior is quite so big? And given that the principal pursuit of those monks was study, scribing and worship, why was it built like a mighty fortress?

To get to the bottom of all that, we need to know something about its benefactor; Maurice De Londres and what he is likely to have had in mind when he commissioned it.

Even by the standards of other Norman, warrior knights, De Londres was a brute. He had a fearsome reputation which was dramatically encapsulated when he decapitated Princess Gwenllyan of Dehaubarth in Kidwelly. He was certainly not known to be a godly man.

He had always intended to build a mighty castle in Ewenny to provide the local Norman lordships with what scholars have ever since described as a “quadrilateral defence” of the main crossing points of the Ewenny and Ogmore rivers. With Coity and Newcastle to the North, and Ogmore and Ewenny to South. But if that was his plan, what persuaded him to instead build what we still describe today as “a priory”, a place fundamentally intended to be “a house of God”?

There is a commonly held belief that at some point, De Londres built the priory as a way of atoning for his former sins (just as Richard De Glanville did when he financed the Abbey in Neath). Call me cynical, but I am not altogether convinced by that theory. I believe that instead, his true motivation was a decree issued by Pope Honorius II himself, dated 12th April 1128 (six years after work had begun on the site). It threatened De Londres that if he did not “restore and make good whatever lands, tithes, obligations, or other valuables he had appropriated from his mother church…” – that he would be ex-communicated. In other words, De Londres had clearly plundered a pre-existing monastic building on the site and had already begun building a castle on it. But the Pope wanted it back.

There are records of this older site. The 12th Century “Book of Llandaff” lists a Celtic cell dedicated to the early Welsh saint, St Eguenni in the area. The fact that the pope had threatened De Londres with ex-communication, a fate of social disgrace from which a nobleman could not recover meant he had made De Londres an offer he could not refuse.

To say that De Londres was reluctant would be an understatement, so he built what was fundamentally the fortress he was going to build anyway but to appease the Vatican, annexed it to a priory cell and turned over its custody to the Benedictine order of St Peter at Gloucester Abbey. Hence its size. It needed to be big enough to house 13 monks to keep the pope happy, plus a detachment of men-at-arms to help De Londres subdue the troublesome Welsh.

It seems that beyond the Vatican, there was little pretence of what he had done. King Edward I stationed troops at the priory to assist with his invasion of West Wales, so he clearly knew of its intended purpose. And nearly 200 years later, when Owain Glyndwr laid siege to Coity Castle in 1405, King Henry IV stayed and launched his counterattack from Ewenny Priory. So even he knew that this priory was a castle really and only a priory in name. There is evidence to suggest that the King was also compliant in the deception as he went on to nominate Hugh Morton, the Prior at Ewenny at the time, to be appointed the next Abbot of St Peter’s Gloucester. A huge promotion for him and doubtless a reward for maintaining the pretence of what Ewenny Priory really was if the Pope ever asked.

Graham Loveluck-Edwards (published in the Glamorgan Star newspaper 18 November 2021)

If you are interested in the history of the Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan area, why not give my book a go? It’s all about the history, the many legends and the abundance of folklore of the area and is called ‘Legends and folklore of Bridgend and the Vale’. Available from all good independent book shops, Amazon, or direct from the author at http//grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk

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From alms to ales – A potted history of the oldest pub in Swansea.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the Victorians and the Luftwaffe, most of the old inns in Swansea city centre are gone for ever, but the Cross Keys (pictured above in 1880, 1926 and now) has survived them all and has antiquity by the spade full.

The name is a nod to the legend that St Peter held the keys to the gates of heaven. A clue to its godly past. The building it self was built by Bishop Henry de Gower (Bishop of St Davids) in 1330, not as an inn but an almshouse and early hospital annexed to a monastic cell. The charter of 1332 says that it was established for ‘the support of other poor chaplains and laymen deprived of bodily health.’ It was not only there to look after people taken ill or injured, but to support the destitute, poor and starving.

The institution must have had some significant patronage, as it survived right up until the Reformation and the dissolution of monasteries in 1536. It was then confiscated by the Crown and sold to Sir George Herbert, who was a very powerful and rather unscrupulous man, descended from a family of ‘Marcher’ lords. And to make matters worse, he was from Cardiff.

He was a man of very different moral fibre to Henry de Gower, and as there was no money to be made from feeding the starving or tending to the sick, he closed down the hospital and almshouse and broke the estate up, turning the old buildings into shops and an inn. Later all the other buildings were demolished, but the inn thrived.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the pub was very dilapidated and run down. and its origins had largely been forgotten, so it was a very brave undertaking to get it all restored and renovated. But when the rendering got stripped away, to the delight of the owner who oversaw the work, a lot of the original features, like the stone arched windows and medieval timber, were re-discovered. The two bays on the St Mary Street side were added onto the original building in the seventeenth century, and it is believed that when they were built, they contained two narrow shops separated by a passageway which ran to the back of the building.

Inside there are some lovely features. The massive ceiling beams tell a story of all the walls and partitions that have been added and taken away in the last 700 years, and there are fragments of medieval roof trusses on either side of a small seating area in the lounge.

The layout of the pub today suggests that this part of the original building had two uses. The old hall would have been located on the first floor, which would have been a cleric’s living accommodation. Meanwhile below would have been part of the old hospital, possibly a ward.

This exert is taken from a new book, out now, called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and published by Candy Jar Books. It charts the history, folklore and incredible stories that are tied up in 89 historic pubs from all over Wales. Everything from royal patronage and assassination attempts to ghosts and priest holes. Even one which claims to have an elephant buried under the beer garden. It is available from good, independent book shops, WH Smiths, Amazon or direct from the author at a discounted price at http://grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk.

A crowd of regulars outside the Cross Keys in Swansea in 1880. Historic pubs of Wales.

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When Monmouth’s oldest pub held secret masses in the attic

The Tudor arched doorway at the Robin Hood Inn, Monmouth

The Robin Hood Inn is claimed to be the oldest pub in Monmouth, and the Tudor arched doorway built in dressed stone suggests that this claim is not without merit. When I investigate the history of old pubs like this one I am always amazed by two things which keep cropping up. The first is that there is an intrinsic link in Wales between pubs and the church. The second being that pubs have always been prominent in the country’s storied history of rebels, outlaws and underdogs. Never was this truer than in the case of the Robin Hood.

In the sixteenth century, Britain was wrestling with the ramifications of the Reformation. Being a practising Catholic became a very risky business. It was viewed as seditious, and followers were persecuted.

Despite the great personal risk, the landlord of the Robin Hood allowed the inn’s upper room to be used as a safe space for Monmouth’s Catholic community. There is even evidence that it was used to celebrate Mass in secret and remnants of religious paintings where discovered when an area was replastered in the latter part of the 20th century.

Had he been caught he would have instantly been shut down and imprisoned, possibly executed. However, there is no doubt that these secret  gatherings continued for more than 100 years, because by 1778 religious tensions had cooled sufficiently for parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act, in which places of Catholic worship were given licenses to exist. It took the council in Monmouth fifteen years to act on this reform, but when they finally did, they granted the Robin Hood Inn a license to act as a ‘Publick Catholic Chapel’.

It was a condition of the license that the building could not be made to look like a place of worship and that worshippers could not enter from the main street. Once the restriction on Catholic worship was lifted, a lot more people felt comfortable turning up to Mass, and the upper room of the Robin Hood Inn quickly became inadequate to support their numbers. Instead, the landlord of the Robin Hood at the time, a man called Michael Watkins, financed the building of a purpose-built chapel.

This exert is taken from a new book called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by Welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and published by Candy Jar Books (Cardiff) LTD.

The book charts the amazing haul of history tied up in 89 historic pubs from right across Wales including 21 from the Monmouthshire/Gwent area. It is available in WH Smith and other good book shops and on Amazon or at a £2 discount on the author’s own website at http://grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk

Historic Pubs of Wales by Graham Loveluck-Edwards
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“Historic Pubs of Wales” by Graham Loveluck-Edwards reviewed by the South Wales Argus.

An AUTHOR has published a book telling the historic tales of 89 pubs across Wales – including Newport, Caerphilly, and several cross Gwent. 

Graham Loveluck-Edwards has announced the release of his new book ‘Historic Pubs of Wales’ where he relishes in some of the more colourful myths, legends and stories from Wales’ ancient past and oldest pubs. 

Included in the book is an entire chapter dedicated to Gwent, titled ‘Monmouthshire and the ancient kingdom of Gwent’ which includes pubs such as The Hanbury Arms in Caerleon, The Murenger House in Newport, The Robin Hood Inn in Monmouth and several more.

“For example, the pub which claims to have an elephant buried under its beer garden, or the pub where funeral parties take a short cut to the cemetery through the bar to keep an ancient right of access alive, or the pub that claims to have invented pancake day and so many more. 

“In all, I’ve compiled over 100 incredible stories based around 89 amazing old pubs – is there any truth to them?

“Some for sure, but this book captures them and puts them in the context of history so you can be the judge.”

The book also contains a travel guide so readers can go on a tour around Wales and visit all the pubs in the book.

You can find out more at www.talesfromhistoricpubsofwales.co.uk.  

“As you can imagine for such a book the research was relentless and thorough, and a lot of fun,” he added.

“Pubs have had such a tough time in the last year with us going in and out of lockdowns and with the introduction of social distancing measures. 

“Sixteenth century inns are usually a warren of tiny rooms so being two metres apart has made opening and trading near impossible for many. 

“So, a book which celebrates all that is great about our old pubs, which tells people their history, where to find them and what to expect when you get there has been welcomed by all landlords.”

Link to live item: https://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/19581611.vale-author-details-history-newport-pubs-new-book/

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“Historic Pubs of Wales” by Graham Loveluck-Edwards reviewed in the Denbigh Free Press

THE medieval town of Ruthin has a turbulent past. But did you know that there are phrases in common use in the English language today that originate from one of the town’s gorier traditions?

As much as the thought of a public hanging might turn our stomachs today, back in the 18th century they were considered good, clean, family entertainment.

In Ruthin, the gallows stood in the medieval market square at the top of the hill that leads up from the town’s old gaol. The route between the two places back then is as short and direct as it is today.

However, Ruthin continued a tradition that was echoed in towns across the country. The condemned man was never taken directly. Instead, it was customary for the condemned man to be placed in a cart or wagon and be taken on a zig zag route throughout the entire town, stopping at every pub in the town on his way.

The journey would begin at the gaol and the condemned man would travel in this wagon with an entourage of guards, a chaplain, and the executioner himself. Every time they stopped, the condemned man and his guards would dismount, go in the pub, have a few drinks, and then stumble back out to move on to the next one.

The only people who could not join them were the two men who still had a job to do, namely the executioner and the chaplain. So, if you ever offer to buy someone a drink and they reply, ‘Not for me, thanks. I’m on the wagon,’ now you know the tradition they’re referencing. It’s these two abstaining souls who could not join in the revelry.

And that is not the full extent of language that is derived from this tradition.

On its journey, the wagon transporting the condemned man used to start and stop so often that the lunging motion of the horses’ jerking the wheels into rotation earned the nickname ‘the lurch’. So, when the executioner and chaplain remained on the cart, while everyone else went into a pub, they were ‘left in the lurch’.

There are even suggestions that the term ‘pub crawl’ refers to the pace of the cart moving along the streets. Meanwhile, having ‘one for the road’ is another, self-explanatory reference.

This and many other fascinating revelations like it come from a new book which has just been published by Candy Jar Books, called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by Welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards.

Graham said: “When it comes to history, the humble pub has always punched well above its weight. Some of these wonderful old buildings have been at the heart of some very significant history as well as colourful events and imaginative folklore down the centuries. Yet when it comes to reading about local history, as much as there is no end of books about castles, stately homes, churches, and cathedrals, there is precious little about our pubs. They are so often overlooked. And that is something I am keen to put right”

“I have always loved old pubs. I am one of those people who cannot pass by an old and decrepit-looking pub without popping in for a pint and asking the landlord, ‘What’s the story behind this place then?’ This book is the fruit of a good 30 years of such conversations.”

The book charts the amazing haul of history tied up in 89 historic pubs from right across Wales. Capturing the history, the stories, and the folklore. Nineteen of the 89 are pubs are in North Wales and they include the Morning Star in Ruthin (at the heart of the tradition we were just looking at), the Ty Mawr in Gwyddelwern, The King’s Head in Llanrhaeadr and the Guildhall in Denbigh.

Historic Pubs of Wales is available from the author’s website just click here.

Link to live item: https://www.denbighshirefreepress.co.uk/news/19607856.many-phrases-use-today-derive-gory-past-pubs-denbighshire/

The Denbigh Free Press

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New book full of parables and pints.

Today in Rhoose, local author: Graham Loveluck-Edwards announced the release of his new book “Historic Pubs of Wales” to follow up the regional best seller Legends and Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale which came out last year. “I was overwhelmed by the demand for my first book” said Graham. “Over 2,000 copies sold in the first three months of release alone and I was inundated with messages asking when the next one would be out”.

Graham is best known for writing historical non-fiction but with a tongue-in-cheek view of some of the more ridiculous aspects of it. As such he has earned himself the nickname of “the Bill Bryson of history books”. He relishes in some of the more colourful myths, legends and stories from Wales’ ancient past, and this latest book, about Wales’ oldest pubs, is crammed with fascinating, historically based stories and facts.

“I have always loved old pubs, and we are blessed to have so many belters here in Wales. There are many amazing stories associated with them. For example, the pub which claims to have an elephant buried under its beer garden, or the pub where funeral parties take a short cut to the cemetery through the bar to keep an ancient right of access alive, or the pub that claims to have invented pancake day and so many more. In all, I’ve compiled over 100 incredible stories based around 89 amazing old pubs. Is there any truth in them? Some for sure, but this book captures them and puts them in the context of history so you can be the judge. And what about the age-old question of which is the oldest pub in Wales? We have eight different establishments all claiming it’s them, so which one is right?”

The book also contains a travel guide so readers can go on a tour around Wales and visit all the pubs in the book. They will then be able to check out all the secret passage ways, smugglers’ hides, priest holes and ghosts for themselves.

As you can imagine for such a book, the research was relentless and thorough… And a lot of fun.

Pubs have had such a tough time in the last year with us going in and out of lock downs and with the introduction of social distancing measures. Sixteenth century inns are usually a warren of tiny rooms so being two metres apart has made opening and trading near impossible for many. So, a book which celebrates all that is great about our old pubs, which tells people their history, where to find them and what to expect when you get there (with full colour pictures) has been welcomed by all the landlords Graham spoke to when doing his research.

Historic Pubs of Wales is published by Candy Jar Books (Cardiff) on ISBN 978-1-913637-75 and is available to buy direct from the author today on his website for the discounted price of £12 plus P&P. Just type www.talesfromhistoricpubsofwales.co.uk into your web browser. It will also be available on Amazon and in most good, independent bookshops from Friday 17th September 2021 but at the cover price of £15 (plus P&P if bought online).

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Hanging upon your every word

As some of you may know, I am currently working on my third book called “Why Santa might kill you”. It’s about all the things we accept in modern day life as innocent enough but which in reality have pretty dark origins. You only have to scratch the surface of innocuous characters like Santa Clause or some of our best loved fairy tales and nursery rhymes to discover that under the modern day veneer are some pretty hair raising earlier incarnations.

One of the chapters deals with all those expressions we use in common, every day language which are derived from unsavoury episodes in our history. To give you a taster I thought I would share with you some colloquialisms we still use that have their origins in the practise of public hangings. Gallows humour is one thing. This is gallows linguistics.

This particular segment follows a contemporary account of what happened at a public hanging in London in 1726 by a visiting French cleric called De Saussure.

It was a tradition, especially in York and London that the wagon (carrying the condemned man, the executioner and his entourage) would stop at every pub between the jail and the gallows and this has given us a host of language, mainly associated with excess consumption of alcohol. 

Whenever the wagon pulled up outside another pub, the condemned man and all the guards would dismount, go in the pub, have a few drinks and then stumble back out to move on to the next one. The only people who could not join them in this binge drinking extravaganza were the two men who had to stay sober as they still had a job to do. Namely; the executioner and the chaplain. So, if ever you offer to buy someone a drink and they reply “not for me thanks. I’m on the wagon” they are referencing exactly that phenomenon. Staying “on the wagon” meant that you were unable to join in the drinking on the way to the gallows. Because you were the executioner or chaplain. 

There are other references to these two abstaining souls elsewhere in commonly used expressions. Because the wagon transporting the condemned man used to start and stop so often on its journey, it earned itself the nickname “the lurch”. Describing the lunging motion experienced by all on board when the horses initially pull the wheels into motion, and again when the breaks were applied. So, when the executioner and chaplain stayed on the cart, while everyone else went into a pub, they were “left in the lurch”, an expression often used even today to describe someone who has been abandoned or excluded.

There are other expressions associated with excess alcohol consumption derived from this wagon ride. When recovered alcoholics revert back to drink they are sometimes refered to as having “fallen off the wagon” and there are even suggestions that the term “pub crawl” refers to the pace of the cart moving along the west-ward road out of London to Tyeburne. Conversely, having “one for the road” is also a direct reference to having a drink in a pub before being carted down the road to the gallows.

Du Saussure also refers to the fact that friends and relatives would grab hold of the condemned man’s legs and hang from them with all their weight to make the rope pull tighter and help them to die quicker. So, they did not suffer so much. Sometimes however, the condemned man might not have friends and family in the place where he is due to be executed. If that was the case but he had access to money, he could pay a guard at the prison to do that job instead. So, if you’ve ever wondered why a celebrity surrounded by freeloaders might describe his entourage as “hangers-on” – that’s where the expression comes from. Its people who were not your true friends, who you could pay to hang from your legs to help you die quicker in an execution.

You might get unlucky trying to find a “hanger on” and choose an unscrupulous guard who would take your money and agree he will hang on to your legs, but in reality, all he will do is go through the motions. That means that rather than hang on to you, he will just “pull your leg”. And that is where we get the expression of “he’s just pulling your leg” meaning “he’s just messing around – he’s not being serious”.

Du Saussure also mentions that the condemned man would be wearing a black covering over his head. This was partly to spare the crowds the sight of his contorted face when his eyes started to pop out of their sockets and partly to save the condemned man himself seeing what was coming. It meant that when the cart pulled the floor away from under their feet, that they were taking “a leap into the dark”. Again, a common expression used for venturing into the unknown.

It is true that any property of the condemned man (such as his clothes) if not claimed by a relative, became the property of the hangman. It was one of many ways the executioner got to cash in on his grizzly profession. Another was to take advantage of the regulation that dictated that a hang man’s rope could only be used once, to guarantee it had the integrity not to break during the execution. This meant that after an execution the hang man could retrieve the ropes he had used and sell them on the market. Given that he had not had to outlay any money, it meant that any money he made on the sale was pure profit. Leading to the expression “money for old rope” used to describe any scheme to make easy money or disproportionately high profit margins.

I am sure at some point or another you have heard a man who is well blessed in the trouser department, be referred to by an onlooker as “well-hung”? Apparently, the act of strangulation has the incongruous side effect of making the male organ engorged. Something that was very apparent to crowds who turned out to watch public hangings. It led to us getting this quaint compliment.

You may also have heard someone describe a project which failed or a plan that never came to anything described as having “gone west”. This refers to the route taken from the jails of London to Tyeburn, which was located on the other side of the city’s west gate.

Of course, executions did not always run as smoothly as the one De Saussure witnessed. There were times when they went spectacularly wrong. One of the most famous of all time was the execution of a man called Goodale. When he was hung, due to a freak set of circumstances that were not obvious at the time, when the rope tightened around his neck it jerked his head clean off his shoulders. Like a champagne cork popping from the bottle, sending showers of blood and gore spouting all over the gathered crowd. This turned so many stomachs that questions were asked in parliament and a full enquiry was launched by hangmen and other government officials concerned. The whole nation was transfixed with the story as it appeared in newspapers everywhere for a number of weeks. The incident was nicknamed “The Goodale Mess” – undoubtedly the origins of the expression “God awful mess” used to this day to describe any seen of destructive carnage.

So what do you think? It is intended to entertain as much as educate but this is pretty much the level of the whole book. Give me your thoughts:

Cover mock up of “Why Santa might kill you” by Graham Loveluck-Edwards
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Get an analyst’s report of your first draft

Here’s a service I never even knew existed until recently but cannot recommend enough. I had written the manuscript for my second book; Monica but something about it just didn’t gel. Something I could not put my finger on. I was happy with the obvious stuff like the characters and the narrative but somehow it just didn’t feel complete to me. I also felt I was having to ask myself too many questions about the flow of it while I was writing it.

So I enlisted the help of Cressida Downing; the book analyst. For a small fee she (and other people who offer a similar service) promise a “warts and all” appraisal of what you have written so far. In other words feedback ranging from “this is good” to “you’re wasting your time here”.

The feedback I had was like an epiphany for me. She had totally nailed where the divergence was and the effect it was having on the work over all. In addition to a written report picking out strengths and weaknesses of your draft she also gives a consultation to help you find the right route forward with the rest of it. Coaching for want of a better word and a great sounding board. We have one such call scheduled for next week.

If you find your self floundering with getting a new idea down on paper. Or even if you just want what you have written sanity checked by someone who knows what they are talking about, this could be the answer for you.

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First Edit – First Book

I recently found a publisher for my first book. It is a compendium of fascinating old, Welsh legends and stories of folklore. Everything from ancient wars and kings, to dragons, ghosts and ship wreckers. Here’s a link to the full synopsis if that is your kind of thing. My middle child (who self identifies as non binary) is a great artist and photographer so I got them to do all the illustrations and photos to bring it all to life. As we are both currently unemployed it seemed a handy alliance to forge.

I have found that publishers are a lot more likely to take a punt on an unknown writer if they have produced a work of non-fiction rather than a novel and this one is now in quite advanced stages of pre-publication. Over the weekend I had the post edit version of my manuscript land in my inbox and today I read it through. I was a bit apprehensive that they might have changed pretty much everything as I am still lacking confidence in my own abilities. I guess that’s what comes of waiting 52 years before even trying to write my first book. However I was worrying unnecessarily. Most of what has changed is just my appalling spelling. The content, feel and flow is exactly the same as my first draft which is reassuring. May be I’m not completely rubbish at this after all 🙂

It occurs to me that at this rate it will be ready for publication in a few weeks so I thought I would have a look at setting up a website so I can sell my own copies direct. Especially as I expect to publish another two books hot on the heals of this one. One already finished, the other half way through. If you click on the book cover below you can check it out. And constructive feedback from someone who knows what they are talking about is always welcome, although to manage expectations I am not about to pay anyone to do it for me because I am skint.

Legends and folklore of Bridgend and the Vale