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.