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/
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
The Aderyn Pig
The bird with the grey beak
A Tudor Christmas dinner
The Mari Llwyd
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The ‘Winch’ – is not a misspelling of ‘witch’, nor is it anything to do with the sort of winch you might use to raise a heavy object. It was a character in Welsh folklore similar to the sirens in ancient Greek mythology.
They were alluring temptresses that lived in or near water and would entice their unsuspecting male victims to their deaths while under their spell.
There is a legend of a ‘winch’ which lived by the whirlpool in the river Taff in Cardiff which local people used to believe was fathomless.
This winch would bathe near youthful men who were fishing or swimming in the river. As they swum out to her they would be caught in the swirling water and dragged to their deaths.
A teller of this tale to a nineteenth century traveller in south Wales described this winch as ‘the devil in disguise’. She said of the whirlpool “it reaches from the Taff to the mouth of perdition, where Satan waits for the souls who are beguiled by the lovely lady”.
There was another legend about this whirlpool. That in its cavernous depths a serpent lived, who would gorge itself on unfortunate victims sucked in to it. If ever someone floated to the surface after being sucked into the whirlpool (either alive or dead) it was believed that they were virtuous as the serpent would not touch those blessed by God.
I remember the whirlpool but I’m pretty confident it’s now gone – the victim of flood prevention engineering and the flooded bay.
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.
It’s not a phenomenon normally associated with Welsh folklore, but while researching for a new book I have recently come across a series of articles which amount to Vampire stories set in south Wales. They are set in the eighteenth century but were written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
This was a time when ‘gothic’ themes were very fashionable in Britain. Writers like Arthur Machen, the man from Caerleon credited with coming up with the ‘Angel of Mons’ story when he was a journalist during World War I, were enormously popular. And ‘Welsh Gothic’ in particular was all the rage as the recent discovery of the lost manuscripts of the Mabinogion had put our dragons and beasts and wizards at centre stage globally.
The stories about our vampires are quite unique compared to similar stories from elsewhere at that time. There is also a very definite theme with them.
When you think of more famous vampire stories like ‘Count Dracula’ and ‘Nosferatu’, the story is very much about a visible phenomenon. A character with a personality, with a back story and a physical presence. In the Welsh tradition, vampires are not seen, and little is known about who they are (or were). They are also, generally connected to an inanimate object such as an item of furniture, rather than able to wander wherever they like under the cover of darkness. They also do not appear to be put off by crosses and religious paraphernalia.
The following account is fairly typical of the genre and was first published by Marie Trevelyan in 1909.
A large, old farmhouse, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons was taken over by new tenants. They discovered that some old furniture belonging to the previous occupants still filled many of the rooms. This was not really a problem to them as they did not generally use these rooms. But they were dusted down, and a fire lit in the hearth when a pious minister was due to stay as a weekend guest. He was going to be preaching at the local chapel that Sunday.
He arrived on the Friday night quite exhausted from his journey and retired to his chamber early where he sat in an armchair by the window and read from his bible before falling asleep. Through the night he was tormented by bad dreams and when he woke, he spotted that a wound on the back of his hand was bleeding. He wrapped it with a handkerchief and commented to the lady of the house over breakfast that there may be a couple of nails in the armchair that need attention and he showed her his wounds.
She was quite shocked as a previous visitor who had stayed in that room had complained of the same thing, so she had already had the armchair overhauled by an upholsterer. She went to the room and checked the chair over herself but could find nothing that could have caused the minister’s wounds.
The following evening the minister once again fell asleep in the armchair after spending some hours reading his bible. He was awoken by a feeling which he described as being “as if being gnawed at by a dog”. He had a pain which ran down the whole left-hand side of his body and he felt so weak that he struggled to get to his feet and strike a light. When he finally did, he lifted his shirt to see wounds across his rib cage like those he had seen on the back of his hand. All of them oozing with blood.
On Sunday morning as the congregation were leaving chapel the minister was introduced to the landlady who owned the farmhouse. He said to her ‘Madam, you may or may not know it, but I believe a vampire frequents your house. The dead man who owned the furniture comes to suck the blood from intruders and is probably not pleasantly disposed towards ministers of the Gospels.’ To which she replied, ‘It has happened to two ministers before you’.
An exorcism was said and when the minister departed the house, he declared that the malignant spirit had been put to rest. But in 1850, a dignitary of the Church of England stayed at the house and reported the same unpleasant experience and could show similar wounds on his left hand, arm, and leg.
I’m no expert on these matters, but surely, just get rid of the chair?
Graham Loveluck-Edwards is an historian and author of ‘Legends & Folklore of Bridgend and the Vale’ and ‘Historic pubs of Wales’. Available at Amazon and all good independent book shops or at http://grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk.
What ties the criminal justice system in ancient Wales to some of our oldest local pubs? ⚖️🍺🏴.
I have made a 10-minute video (the link is below) in which I look at crime and punishment in Caerphilly in the mediaeval period, in Cardiff in the Tudor period and Abergavenny in the Stuart period. I investigate how much things have changed and also how many traditions and even expressions have survived.
In this video we visit some familiar places;
▶️the Tafan-Y-Cwrt in Caerphilly,
▶️the Skirrid Inn in Llanvihangel Crucorney,
▶️Death Junction in Roath in Cardiff,
▶️the original site of Cardiff Gaol and town hall
▶️and the current site of Cardiff Prison.
We talk about;
▶️the Magna Carta,
▶️medieval trials by ordeal,
▶️the Bloody Assizes
▶️and public execution.
All in all, a whirl wind tour of what faced criminals in South Wales in the olden days, and how much of it you can still see by popping down to your local pub or even things you might hear or say down the local pub.
Watch the video in full on YouTube 🎬
Here’s the link ⬇️