Russia’s monolithic gateposts might lead you to expect a substantial dwelling, outclassing the cottages on the Dinas mountain. But no. The gatepost on the left was positioned (and broken?) by a JCB about 35 years ago when the farmer removed it from a dip in the field to provide a permanent anchorage for the gate. The building behind the gate had already crumbled away years before. All that you can see now are the ruined foundations of the small cottage along with its attached garden. As usual all the best building materials will have been recycled elsewhere. Russia has gone.
This pattern of building, ruin and rebuilding (with or without monoliths) is not uncommon on the Preseli Hills, but the unusual name of this small-holding had always intrigued me. Why Russia? Len Urwin, a historian who lives just down the road, had the following fascinating response to my question:
The original name Rusha in the 1841 census is hard to explain. I don’t think it has any Welsh meaning, unless it was someone’s name. I vaguely recall that Pembrokeshire stonemasons were invited to Russia some time in the 19th century. The naming precedes the Crimean War of the 1850s which involved men from Haverfordwest, Slebech and elsewhere in the County. My final thought however, is that the name may have originated during the Napoleonic period, following the retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1812, which signalled the demise of the Emperor. Why, following the celebrations of Waterloo, wouldn’t returning foot-soldiers or others name a farm after their great ally Rusha?
So who lived in Russia? According to Len’s research the land appears to have supported small families who moved on rather than staying put from one generation to the next. Census records for the smallholding called “Rusha” from 1841-1861 and “Russia” from 1871 onwards, in the Parish of Llanychlwydog, Pembrokeshire, show that –
At the time of the 1841 and 1851 census, the house was occupied by the Roach* family: parents, two daughters and for the early years (I’m assuming) a grandmother. Ten years later, in 1861, the house had passed to the Evans family and it was they (or possibly their census enumerator) who changed the name from ‘Rusha’ to ‘Russia’ in 1871. The parents and four children were gone by 1881 and the Harries family had moved in: Benjamin aged 23, Margaret, 33 and Mary aged 77. By 1891 the Harries family had been replaced by the Ladds but they (with three of their own children and a baby nephew) were gone, in their turn, by 1901. The last occupant, recorded in the census of 1901, is Martha Harries, a single farmer aged 40 from Dinas, and her 5 year old son, David. The 1911 census has no mention of Russia. Presumably the house was uninhabited.
I’m left trying to envisage what life must have been like for Martha and her young son. Could one person make a living from Russia’s fields? How did she manage alone on the mountain with a baby? Life must have been hard.