Posted on Leave a comment

A tombstone to confound the devil.

In a churchyard in Monmouth stands one of the most curious tombstones in the county. And one so unique that it was given Grade II listed status in 2005. As you might expect with such a memorial, it and the man it commemorates, have quite a backstory. It concerns one man’s obsession with outsmarting the devil.

His name was John Renie and he was born in Monmouth in 1799 and worked as a painter and decorator in the town until he died in 1832. He was known to be one of the town’s more eccentric characters and nothing exemplified this more than a plan he hatched to try and ease his own passage to heaven on the event of his inevitable death. The plan was simple. He wanted his gravestone to be so confusing to read, that if the devil were to ever come looking for his soul, he would not be able to work out where his body was buried. Thus allowing Renie’s soul to slip past the devil, straight to the gates of heaven.

He became concerned that he would not be able to trust any local stone mason with this job. Either because he considered them incapable of pulling off his complex instructions, or worse, that they may reveal the secret of it to Satan himself. So to make sure the job was done properly he did the engraving himself. He dedicated years to getting it right. The end result is this fascinating and intricate, stone engraved ‘acrostic puzzle’.

It contains 285 very delicately carved letters in rows and columns. To be able to read the inscription you need to begin at a letter ‘H’ in the centre of the puzzle and follow the letters in any direction. Mathematicians who have studied the stone report that there are 32,032 different ways to read the words “Here lies John Renie”. It is quite an incredible achievement.

If the devil were not yet confused enough by John Renie’s endeavours, there is one final obstacle he might encounter if he was sufficiently determined to find his soul. And It is one Renie himself could not have foreseen but would no doubt have been absolutely delighted with. Put simply, the chances are, he probably isn’t even buried here at all!

In 1851, there was a rash of unexplained deaths amongst the residents of Whitecross Street in Monmouth. The street which runs along the edge of the churchyard at St Mary’s Priory Church, where this tombstone can be found. There were also reports of a terrible stench emanating from the raised area of the churchyard. The bodies and bones of the people buried there had become exposed by ground movement and weathering. All the exposed bodies had to be reinterred else where in the graveyard, but it was an impossible job to know who was who so they just did the best they could.

If this story is not already weird enough, the church council at the time decided to wade in with their own contribution. They felt that the churchyard looked over cluttered with memorials and headstones so a decision was taken to clear them all away as part of this work, to create a park. Only a small handful of stones now remain which have been laid out in accordance with the paths rather than where people are actually buried.

The end result. John Renie’s body could be anywhere. As could his soul.

If you want to see more of this tombstone and the yard of St Mary’s Priory Church in Monmouth, as well as other stories concerning the Devil in Monmouthshire I have made this YouTube video on the subject. Just click on the link below to watch in full. And while you are there, please subscribe to my channel.

If you would like to read more Monmouthshire related folklore, you might enjoy the blog and video available on this link. It is all about the scars of the reformation to be seen to this day at The Robin Hood in Monmouth and the White Harte in Llangybi between Usk and Caerleon. And if you like ancient Welsh myths, folklore and legends in general, then you may also be interested in the books I have written on the subject available to buy on this link. or my YouTube channel which is packed with loads of videos on the subject. Just visit https://youtube.com/GrahamLoveluck.

The tombstone of John Rennie in Monmouth
Posted on Leave a comment

Unique perspective of World War II

A new book called Monica was launched on Saturday 7th October at Cowbridge Town Hall in South Wales. It tells the story of a family who fled grinding poverty and endless wars in 1920s Poland to start a new life in France. France had suffered heavy losses in World War I and needed immigrant labour to work in the mines. This family were part of that solution but shortly after moving found themselves living under German occupation in World War II.

The story is told from the perspective of the youngest member of the family.  A little girl known as Monia at home, but Monique to her French school friends. She finally becomes known as Monica when the family settled in the South Wales coal field after the war. She recounts day to day life under occupation and beyond. She also embodies some recurring themes throughout the story. The mass movement of people across war torn Europe and the breakneck pace of change in the 20th century. One of her uncles glibly comments over dinner that he was born before the Wright brothers had achieved flight but had lived to see a man land on the moon. A remark which so aptly sums that up.

At the launch, the author Graham Loveluck-Edwards talked about the very real people the book is based on. A little-known history which is part of our story of diversity in Wales.

At the end of the second World War, it was Britain which had lost so many men that additional workers were needed to fill jobs in the mines. Soldiers of the Polish Free Army had fought alongside the British. After the war they were given a choice: Return to their country of residence or stay in the UK to work in the mines here. And that was the story of this family. So, the book also deals with first impressions of South Wales in 1948, and the uniquely Welsh things which made it feel like home.

Graham also revealed at the launch that he is a lot closer to the story than people might realise. “The principal character; Monica is based on my own mother. And this is all based on the history of her family”. He went on “people who knew her from the days when she ran Sacha Boutique in Bridgend in the 1970s and the Elle Dress Agency in Cowbridge in the 1990s may remember her as a rather glamorous and flamboyant lady. They might be surprised at her humble origins in a family of Polish peasants whose existence was so precarious, they measured a good winter by the fact that everyone in the household had survived”.

Even without any personal connections, readers will find the book absorbing and the story it tells fascinating and at times, amusing. Graham who is better known for writing about ancient Welsh legends and stories about pirates and highwaymen said “you will find the stories in this book every bit as entertaining as anything I’ve ever written about pirates or mythical beasts. The difference is, there are plenty of people dotted around the UK who share this history and will see their own family history reflected in what I have written”.

Monica’ is now available to buy from this website as well as on Amazon and all good book shops.

Watch a video of the book launch event in full

Posted on Leave a comment

Stories from Dai Woodham’s locomotive scrap yard in Barry

You often hear people (of a certain age) reminiscing about lost institutions they used to know and love. Maybe it’s the chapel their nana used to go to that’s flats now. Or the local cinema that they used to queue up outside every Saturday that today is just a car park. However, it’s not very often that you find people waxing nostalgically about a scrap yard. But if you ask people who grew up in Barry in the 60s or 70s, very few will have nothing to say about Dai Woodham’s scrap yard. It used to occupy the old railway sidings next to the abandoned docks. It was a place that dominated the townscape. Even if you had no interest in it or what could be found there. It was difficult to ignore.

What made the place magical to so many and made it famous throughout the world was the mile after mile of decommissioned steam locomotives in various states of decay parked up there. As far as the eye could see. And even more magical if you were a curious little boy like I was the first time I visited Barry, you were allowed to climb up and play on them. What would the Health & Safety bods make of that today?

A good friend of mine suggested that I should make a programme about the yard and volunteered his expert knowledge. Great idea I thought, so I casually posted about the notion on social media, to see if I could flush out some personal recollections. I wasn’t really expecting much in the way of engagement.

How wrong could I have been. It seems that everyone has a story about Dai Woodham’s locomotive scrap yard.

I heard how children used to climb up the front of the first locomotive in a line, down the chimney into the boiler then through the cab and out the back, onto the front of the next one and so on, to see if they could clear the whole line without touching the ground. I heard how amateur film makers used to light fires next to the cabs and fan the flames so billows of smoke would swirl past them, so it looked on the film like they were driving a steam engine. Even if the one they were in didn’t even have any wheels.

Lots of people had stories about how pragmatic Dai was when it came to pricing. One person told me that he found a small green engine on the yard. He fell in love with it. But it was boxed in on all sides by far bigger locomotives, some of which were missing wheels. He asked Dai ‘how much?’ Dai looked at the engine, looked at the others around it and with an air of ambivalence said ‘£60 – if you can get it out”.

I also heard from the relatives of the great man himself and a lady who worked at the yard for most of her life. They told me about all the preservation societies who would come to the yard in their droves. Their mission? To buy locomotives to restore. Even the BBC TV’s kids programme Blue Peter came to buy one. And of course, the back story of the most famous locomotive of all – the Hogwarts Express. How the old GWR Haul Class 460 engine made its way from Barry Sidings to the silver screen.

When you think about it, nostalgia has always been the currency of Dai Woodham’s. People harking back to the golden age of steam are what kept the business viable for over 30 years. And now the yard is gone the institution itself is the stuff of relived memories.

Incidentally, I did make the programme. It will be broadcasted on Bro Radio FM on Monday 25th September 2023 after the 7pm news. But if the date and transmitter range are a barrier to you enjoying it, it is also available to watch on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/NScezzobFAI. #like and subscribe.

Moving a 100 ton locomotive is a delicate operation – which did not always go smoothly.

If you want to know more about Dai Woodham’s scrap yard there is a fantastic article from the Western Mail archives you might be interested in. Just follow this link.

If you want to know more about Graham Loveluck-Edwards, the producer of this video, follow this one.

Posted on Leave a comment

19th Century Welsh insurrection

Between 1830 and 1844 unrest amongst the industrial workers and farmers in Wales tipped over into riot and uprising. Nineteenth Century South Wales was a tinderbox of revolt. Industrialists were making fortunes in coal and steel but their workers were treated terribly. Living conditions were inhospitable and a breeding ground for cholera and other killer diseases.

High rents and low pay (not in cash but issued in tokens which could only be spent in the shops owned by their employers) made these people little more than slaves. And the introduction of credit and debt bound the working people still further to their employers and land owners.

Outside the industrialised areas things were no better. Welsh farmers and people living in rural areas were being bled by taxes and tythes and on the back of several poor harvests they found themselves on the brink of starvation. Something had to give. And the birth of new political ideas fuelled a number of uprisings.

The Merthyr Rising in 1831, the Rebecca Riots and the Newport Chartist Rising both starting in 1839. But what caused the rebellions? How did they start? Who was behind them? How did the establishment react? What has been their legacy?

In conversation, Graham Loveluck-Edwards and Mark Lawson-Jones pull back the layers of these events and their consequences. And as ever, especially for viewers in the Vale of Glamorgan, there is a tenuous local link. Watch below to find out what it is.

First broadcast June 2023 on Bro Radio.

The Merthyr Rising, The Rebecca Riots and The Chartists March on Newport all took place in the 1830s in Wales
Posted on Leave a comment

The legend of the white lady of West Orchard

This is a really tragic, old legend from St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan. The back story of an oft reported aparation of a white lady ghost in a field near West Orchard Castle. With a lot of historical context.

We hear about the second crusades, the De Clare family, the Berkerolles family, the Umphraville family, and of course the local castles at the heart of the drama.

The general gist of the story is Jasper Berkerolles of West Orchard Castle marries very well, but always harbours doubts that he is punching above his weight. And when he has to go to war he becomes consumed with jealously that she is having infidelities with his neighbour. When he returns home he is so tormented he condemns her to a gruesome death.

I wrote about this story in my second book on local legends: More legends and folklore from Barry, Bridgend and the Vale.

Telling the story at the place where it is set adds quite an element of drama. Enjoy. And please subscribe to my channel to enjoy more in the future.

Posted on Leave a comment

Talks on Glamorgan history and folklore

If you, like me, love a bit of Glamorgan history, folklore and legend, you may be interested in joining me at any number of talks I am giving in the coming months. As I am a guest speaker at most of these I have given details of the organisers so where tickets are required you know how to get them. Hopefully something for everyone here.

May Walks In The Vale Of Glamorgan 2023

with Chris Jones & Guests

7th , 13th, 20th and 27th May

After the incredible success of the 10 Days in May walking festival in 2022, Chris Jones is back with another walking festival through some of the Vale of Glamorgan’s most beautiful and historic locations. The theme is very much the same as last year with guided walks, talks about points of historical interest along the way (provided by yours truly) and some surprise appearances as character actors bring to life the stories associated with the area. It is tremendous fun.

These are the walks in this years event.

Sunday 7th May – The Iolo Morganwg Heritage Walk – Starting and finishing in Cowbridge. Meet for breakfast at The Maple and Bean (opposite Waitrose) at 10am.

Saturday 13th May – Llantwit Major and the Heritage Coast – Starting and finishing in Llantwit Major – Meet for breakfast 9.30am at the Piccolo Blu Cafe.

Saturday 20th May – St Athan and Gileston Walk – Start and finish at Gileston Manor where we will meet for breakfast at 9.30am.

Saturday 27th May – Dunraven Coastal Path Walk – Meet for breakfast at 9.30am at The Three Golden Cups in Southerndown.

If you would like to register for any of these walks then please click on the link go to the Visit The Vale website for information.

If that all looks a bit too energetic, then here are some other talks you might be interested in where the audience is altogether more static:

17th May – Social Sisters Barry (The Lounge, Tadcross) 8pm

10th June (2.00pm) – “The Cult, the Captain and the Baron” – the fascinating history of St Curig’s Church, Porthkerry

📍St Curigs Church, Porthkerry CF62 3BZ

🕰 2pm Saturday 10th June

💰 Free

13th June – WI Penarth

15th June – Cowbridge U3A

1st July – Ogmore Walk and Talk

I will provide information closer to the time for The Ogmore Walk and Talk and the St Curigs Porthkerry talks.

For the other talks above I am a guest of an organisation so you will need to contact them direct for more information. Contact details are available for all on Google.

If are interested in having me come along to one of your events to speak on any of my specialist areas, please click here for more information on what I can offer.

Posted on Leave a comment

War diary of a Glamorgan farmer (WW1)

Edgar Walter Savours was born in 1897 and was brought up on Fontygary Farm which today is the Fontygary Inn on the western edge of the village of Rhoose. Throughout his life he kept diaries and journals and he published them in his memoirs. His gift for writing takes you right to the heart of the action and spares no detail.

What follows is an extract from his memoirs, recalling his memories of active service during the First World War when he arrived in Flanders in 1918. This is the first of two such extracts which I shall be blogging over coming weeks.

I shall never forget my first experience of enemy shell fire. I was a 2nd Lieutenant in command of an infantry platoon of 20 NCOs and men. With my battalion the 24th Denbigh Yeomanry Royal Fusiliers I had come from Egypt in May 1918.

We joined the 31st Division on the front, east of Harzbruck in Flanders. We were in reserve trenches. Each evening at dusk we marched up the forest sides or tracks, platoon by platoon, to the front line trenches then situated immediately in front of Nieppe Forest.

For two nights we worked almost undisturbed erecting barb wire defences, repairing trenches and placing war stores in position. The German Verey lights lit up the sky but did not alarm us. There was occasional machine gun and rifle fire, showing that the sentries on both sides were alert.

We worked quietly and returned to our reserve positions, when our task was done, for breakfast and sleep.

On the third evening we had almost reached the front line when all hell was let loose. The enemy guns opened up a terrific bombardment on our positions. Shells exploded around like thunder claps, trees fell with crackling thuds, dirt and soil whizzed about us. The smell of explosive material reached our nostrills. The din was unbearable and seemed to go on and on for ages. I thought none of us would escape alive. However, when at last the barrage did end, to my surprise we all stood up shaken and terrified, but uninjured. The men had needed no orders to fall flat on their faces on the ground when the bombardment commenced. A few casualties were reported in adjoining platoons.

After a rest and after making a count of heads I ordered the men to proceed to their working stations but we did not easily forget the experience – perhaps because it was our first under shell fire. We were to have more.

Some days later I was ordered to attend a conference of officers who were to take part in an attack at dawn. We were told that our division was to attack the enemies’ position in front of Nieppe Forest and capture the devastated village of Vieux Berquin across the valley. The divisions on our flanks were to support.

The raw Yeomanry brigade officers were impressed by the calm and matter of fact way the other seasoned officers discussed the proposals. They had taken part in Many battles before, some wore several wound stripes

Cyril Falls in his edition of Military Operations in France and Belgium states that by 1918 the British Army had become a magnificent fighting machine unequalled in war before.

Our battalion was given the task of acting as carrying party and of mopping up behind the second wave of attack, done by the East Yorkshire Regiment. I later handled written orders detailing objective lists of stores to be carried e.g. machine gun parts, ammunition, picks and shovels. We were to make two trips across “no mans land” with material. I was allocate two platoons on the day the barrage from our guns opened up. Zero hour arrived. Cautiously we advanced walking, wounded men met us returning – one shot through the mouth, others bleeding. mAchine guns rattled, one smelt cordite. We encountered the enemy hiding in slits in the ground under corrugated iron shelters. They were Saxons. How near they were to our lines: presumably listening posts.

The East Yorkshires were well ahead by now and these enemy troops were glad to surrender coming out of their holes like rabbits. Forward we went, eastwards with our loads. Things were getting a bit confused. There was a Prussian sprawled dead across his machine gun. He had caused some damage but theSaxons were more willing to put up their hands and walk west out of battle.

Had we gone too far forward? In a dip of ground with about ten men of our party I spotted an enemy occupied trench, I took a few pot shots with my revolver. Some of the men fired their rifles. the enemy heads disappeared, as if ready to surrender. Our job was carrying and we moved right to some Yorkshire lads who soon had the enemy group in the bag.

The firing seemed to have quietened down. We returned to collect and deliver more stores.

Later I was standing at the edge of the forest before returning to reserve when a wounded German on a stretcher carried by an enemy party passed down the forest side followed by Captain Thomas, my company CO, who incidentally was my cousin from Cardiff. We chatted and a few seconds later followed down the side some 50 yards behind the stretcher party. Suddenly we saw a german shell hit the Germans. All were killed. I turned to Captain Thomas and remarked “I think I have saved your life sir, by delaying you.” He gratefully agreed.

Part two of these extracts from his memoirs will follow soon.

This exert is taken from the book “Fontygary, Rhoose and other family farms” by Edgar Savours – Edited and re-published by Elaine Savours (April 2011). If you would like to know more about the contribution made by other local men to the two World Wars, they are discussed in this video about the lost regiments of the county And of course Glamorgan’s most famous day of the Second World War; the great escape for Island Farm is discussed in this video.

Herbert J Savours (right) with his father David Walter Savours (left) and his sister Margret Sarah Savours (centre) outside Buckingham Palace after receiving the Military Cross.
Posted on Leave a comment

Who was Iolo Morganwg really?

Iolo Morganwg

We know his real name was Edward Williams and that he was undoubtedly one of the most charismatic, influential, and controversial sons of Glamorgan. But what about beyond that?

In this video, author and broadcaster Graham Loveluck-Edwards interviews Gareth Thomas, author of Iolo Morganwg’s biography entitled: “I Iolo”. We talk about the man, the controversy, and his extraordinary legacy.

We look at his early life in a small cottage near Llancarfan and his family background. How his father was a skilled stonemason – a trade he handed onto him. And how his mother was of noble birth but through circumstances she could not control, was forced to marry below her expected social standing and how that family cocktail of social influences played a part in Iolo’s world view.

His most famous legacy is the Gorsedd of the Bards and the modern Eisteddfod, but what is that all about? How did it come about? And how true is it that this is some ancient ceremony?

To some people he is regarded a fraudster and forger. To other’s he is the father of Welsh national identity and a cultural trail blazer.

But who was the real Iolo Morganwg? What were his influences? What was his output? What was it that means we are still debating who and what he was nearly 200 years after his death?

In this video we answer these and many other questions about one of Glamorgan’s most famous sons. This programme is part of the ‘History on your doorstep’ series which is all about the history of Glamorgan. Made and broadcast by Bro Radio FM in April 2023. Written and presented by Graham Loveluck-Edwards.

Posted on Leave a comment

A great Welsh legend for Good Friday

This is Mynydd Ysgyryd Fawr (or in English; The Skirrid). It lies north of Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. It is also known as ‘The Holy Mountain’.

Technically it is a hill not a mountain but the Welsh word ‘mynydd’ doesn’t have such a strict definition criteria as its English equivalent. It just means big hill.

It has a famous legend attached to it. It was said that at the exact moment of the crucifixion the whole mountain shook until the central section collapsed giving it the distinctive outline we see today.

The name ‘ysgyryd’ is derived from the Welsh word for earth quake.

In the medieval period it was a popular place of pilgrimage and at certain points of the path you can take if you are climbing it, there are old stone steps to help the pilgrims with their ascent. It is well worth the trip as the view from the top is amazing. You can see across 4 counties.

There is also a large flat stone, possibly a Neolithic monument, known as the Devil’s Stone half way up it. This time referencing another legend that the collapsed part of the mountain was used as a seat by Satan himself.

So something for everyone!

Posted on 4 Comments

What’s in a name: Laleston

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.

Laleston church
The church he helped to build