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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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How the people of Porthkerry preserve their ancient church

It is one thing to appreciate the beauty of ancient buildings but its a different thing altogether to roll up your sleeves and do your bit to keep them looking that way. But here in Porthkerry we are truly blessed to have had this army of volunteers come to our rescue.

St Curigs is a pretty little 15th century church above the country park in Porthkerry and these volunteers have come to help us lime wash it.

Lime washing is an ancient craft. Since the Romans (and possibly before) people have been weather proofing their buildings with one form of lime wash or another. The distinctive matt white appearance it gives everything is a scene one could describe as quite quintessential in the countryside.

In the Victorian era it fell out of fashion. A desire for more Gothic looking buildings led to a preference for bare stone work. Preferably festooned with creeping ivy. Which may look pretty, but sadly does nothing for the walls. Not only does it let the damp in but it often compromises the mortar in the walls and can lead to the most terrible structural problems.

When St Curig’s Porthkerry were in receipt of a grant from Cadw to do some much needed repair work, it was a condition of the grant that the church be lime washed as it would once have always been. Not necessarily to the liking of all attached to the church at the time, they went along with it and all was well until it was time to apply a fresh coat.

No local contractor was prepared to touch lime wash and those who were prepared to put in bids for the work wanted to charge the cost of a small house. So how to progress?

The parish decided to make it a community event.

Come along and volunteer. Get full instruction, all the equipment you need to do it safely, and try your hand at a craft which has been employed by our ancestors right the way back over thousands of years. And as you can see from the photos that is exactly what happens. And it is a lot of fun. Those in the congregation unable to assist directly bring along cakes and rolls, teas and coffees and snacks and refreshments. Everybody tucks in and has a picnic around the ancient cross (where John Wesley is said to have preached) and a great day is had by all.

And the end result; a weather proof church. And one that looks dazzlingly resplendent in the August sunshine. Now just a small matter of the tower. That I fear is an altogether more industrial process with cherry pickers and hard hats. But we do what we must.

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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.

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The murder of Colyn Dolphin at Tresilian Bay

One of my favourite bits of folklore from the St Donats end of the Vale of Glamorgan is a tale of how a disgruntled aristocrat had his revenge on a pirate on a beach near Llantwit Major.

A notorious seventeenth century pirate from Brittany in Northern France who was the scourge of merchant ships in the Bristol Channel went by the name of Colyn Dolphin. But his greatest haul was not silver of gold, it was when he kidnapped Harry Stradling, son of Sir Edward Stradling of St Donats Castle.

The riches he gained for the ransom lay heavy in his pocket until the day came when Stradling got his revenge at Tresilian Bay between St Donats and Llantwit Major. He buried the pirate up to his neck in sand and forced him to watch his crew hang from the gallows in front of him. Then the final horror as the incoming tide finally engulfed him as he lay powerless in the sands at the mouth of Reynolds Cave.

Watch the video on the link below for the full story. 👇

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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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The RAF in the Vale of Glamorgan

Vulcan bomber and ground staff maintenance at RAF St Athan

Since 1931, military aviation has played an ever changing role in the county of the Vale of Glamorgan. At its height, tens of thousands of people were employed either as military or civilian contractors across four bases. Yes four! I always though it was three.

In this discussion, first aired on Bro Radio on 23rd May 2022, we examine the history of the RAF in the Vale and hear accounts of those who served. Both in the early days and more recently. To get a flavour of what life was like on our bases and also the role they played in the wider military context. In particular during WWII, the Cold War and the Falklands.

We also look at the work being done by the South Wales Aviation Museum to keep that legacy alive.

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History of Sully Island and the Captains Wife

I am delighted to be giving these history talks to the people taking part on the ’10 Days in May’ walking festival in the Vale of Glamorgan. Today I met the walkers outside the Captains Wife pub in Sully to tell them about the area and shot a video of it.

In this one I cover the ancient settlements which once stood on Sully Island and how it was used by smugglers in later history. Then the thorny issue of how the pub got its name and something about the nature of folklore which you might just find interesting.

Click on the link below to play.

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Ten Wonderful Days in May

Throughout May, a walking festival is taking place across the Vale of Glamorgan. It allows participants to visit various beauty spots, and places of special natural or historical interest whilst walking through some spectacular landscapes. The walks usually taking in a nice old pub or two as well. Rather civilised really.

The event is being managed by Valeways, Visit the Vale and Vale of Glamorgan Council with walks being led by TV Presenter and S4C weatherman Chris Jones.

The story behind places of historic significance are also told by local experts and I am delighted to be able support in just such a capacity. Also, characters in costume played by street artists bring those stories to life.

Saturday was a particularly special one for me. We met at one of my favourite haunts; the Plough and Harrow in Monknash. Guests were greeted by a monk who told a chilling tale of a noise which haunted visitors to the old monastic grange. I talked a bit about the history of the grange, the remains of which the pub is built on, the smugglers, pirates and wreckers from the area and how the old inn used to serve as a make shift morgue in the 18th century when souls were washed up on the beaches, the victims of the many wrecks on the Nash and Tusker Rock. A toll thank fully reduced since the construction of the Nash lighthouse in 1830 (also part of the walk). Then when the walkers returned, over a well earned fish and chips and a pint, the people sitting at the tables all around us suddenly sprang into song. A flash-mob provided courtesy of Barry Male Voice choir with traditional Welsh hymns and well known sing-alongs. In the radiant sunshine of the day, it was quite magical.

We are only halfway through the month so there are still plenty more walks you can join in on. Get all the information you need on this link. https://www.visitthevale.com/events/10-days-in-may. There is a good blend of coastal and inland walking and something for all abilities. I would highly recommend it.

Here are some highlights for me so far…

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The legend of ‘The Golden Mile’

Norman soldiers

Glamorgan folklore is awash with countless stories about the Norman invasion of Morgannwg (which at that time was the south Wales kingdom spanning between the Severn and Neath estuaries). Many of these tales are no doubt based on some real history, but the narrative inevitably drifts off at some point to allow the bards who retold them to entertain their audience more fully. We are lucky that many were captured in the sixteenth century by Sir Edward Stradling in his book ‘the Winning of the Lordship of Glamorgan out of Welsh- mens’ Hands’.

One of my favourites concerns how Iestyn Ap Cwrgan, King of Morgannwg enlisted the help of the Normans to settle a dispute. But at what cost?

There was nothing the ancient kings and princes of Wales loved more than a good fight amongst themselves, and Iestyn ap Cwrgan and Rhys ap Tewdwr of Dehaubarth (west Wales) had been at it for years.

The legend has it that Iestyn was getting frustrated at how long the feud had been running. Both sides were equally matched on the battlefield, neither side willing to back down, and there had been much bloodshed for very little gain.

So, after consulting his closest and wisest councillors, he agreed to send one of them, Einon Ap Collwyn, to meet with Robert Fitzhamon, the Norman earl of Gloucester, to ask for his help in defeating his troublesome neighbour. Einon was a natural choice for the job, as he was not only a knight who had proven his loyalty to Iestyn many times on the battlefield, but he was also himself of royal descent. He was the brother of Cadifor, the former prince of Dyfed who had been deposed by Rhys. Their family were well known to the English nobility, and there are even suggestions that Einon served William II when he was in France. Iestyn promised Einon that, if his mission was successful, he would grant him his daughter’s hand in marriage, thus aligning their two royal households for eternity.

Einon met Fitzhamon and negotiated a deal whereby the earl would lend Iestyn the hired muscle of his twelve most trusted knights and their cohorts of soldiers in return for ‘a mile of gold’. The two men shook hands on the deal and Einon returned to Morgannwg with his mercenary force in tow.

Buoyed by this vast tactical advantage, Iestyn threw down the challenge to Rhys to meet him in battle at Brecon. With Iestyn’s own forces bolstered by the mighty armies of the twelve knights, he won easily, and Rhys’ army was decimated.

Rhys took flight, and Iestyn’s troops pursued him all the way to Hirwaun, where they finally caught, trapped, and killed him. It had been a great victory.

During the ensuing victory celebrations, the Norman troops marched to a mile-long section of the old Roman road (the Via Julia Maritima which was built in the Antonine period to link the forts between Gloucester and Neath – these days mostly followed by the A48). They lined up in one long rank and gold coins were placed side by side along the line of soldiers so that Fitzhamon would get his promised ‘mile of gold’. Each soldier would bend down, pick up the coins nearest them, then march back to Gloucester with their treasure. The stretch of road in question has ever since been known locally as ‘the Golden Mile’.

For Einon, the joy of victory in battle was short lived. He turned to Iestyn to remind him of his promise of his daughter’s hand, but Iestyn denied having ever made such a commitment and refused him.

Outraged that he had been duped, the broker of this victory, and the only one not to have profited from it, he returned to Gloucester and asked Fitzhamon if he would join forces with him and turn against their former ally.

Fitzhamon needed little persuasion. He saw a chance to gain wealth and land for himself. So Einon, Fitzhamon and the twelve knights returned to Wales and destroyed Iestyn’s army in a fierce and bloody battle. They sacked his castle and court and, in the legend, killed Iestyn in the battle, although other records suggest he lived until 1093.

Thus began the Norman occupation of South Wales.

There is some arguement about where the ‘Golden Mile’ actually is. According to local historian, Alun Morgan, the stretch of road in question is now part of the A48 between the top of Crack Hill and Pentre Myrig in the Vale of Glamorgan, not, as some believe, from the bottom of Crack Hill (by Brocastle) to roughly where ‘Bridgend Ford’ is. His arguement against the Brocastle stretch was that this was never part of the Roman road (which is true). But as we are discussing folklore here, rather than verifiable history, it’s probably not a detail worth getting too hung-up about. Each is as likely as the other in that regard.

Graham Loveluck-Edwards is an historian and author of ‘Legends & Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale’ and ‘Historic pubs of Wales’. View his videos on local history by visiting his new YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/GrahamLoveluck .

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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: