Back in the early days of the Cwm-yr-Eglwys regatta, the committee organised on an ambitious scale. In addition to the usual swimming, rowing, sailing and donkey walking (the furthest donkey taken out to sea) there were also prizes for needlework, home-grown vegetables and flowers, children’s drawings and the best bouquet of wild flowers collected and arranged on the day.
The category of ‘best home-made walking stick’ was restricted to the inhabitants of Dinas and on 22nd August 1900, the prize was won by Thomas Rees of Cnuck with a blackthorn stick, one of a selection, cut and dried by himself, that was much admired. (Blackthorn is notoriously difficult to work. Compared to other woods, such as hazel, it is hard to find suitable lengths and dangerous to cut. It is also very dense and moist so it takes twice as long to season and is very susceptible to cracking and splitting.)
Thomas Rees took both the first and second prize and decided to raffle the winning stick on 23rd November “for the small sum of twopence per name”. The offer was announced in the The County Echo of 8th November 1900 and the readers were encouraged to view and be tempted by the splendid prize.
On 29th November, The County Echo reported that the raffle had been postponed for a week because not all the raffle books had been returned so wasn’t until 6th December that we learnt that the stick had been won by Mr John Samuel of Heathfield, Dinas, with ticket number 44.
The story continues 111 years later. The name of Mr John Samuel’s house had changed from ‘Heathfield’ to ‘Penrallt’ and the new owners were planning to replace some of the floors. When they took up the old boards, they found this walking stick underneath.
The blackthorn sticks that I have seen are generally knobbly with a natural knuckle in the wood for a handle but I have never seen a prize winning stick before. I would love to believe that this fine article is the stick that Thomas Rees of Cnuck had crafted and that John Samuel won in the raffle.
I’m sure that a competition entry would be sanded to smoothness and topped with a pommel that would impress the judges and raise a bit of money for the craftsman as a result.