Plant a tree in ’73 – View the scene in 2016

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This little grove of Austrian or Corsican pines, planted in 1973, provides shade at the back of Dinas’ old school field, an area that had been the garden plot worked by the older pupils.

The national campaign to ‘Plant a tree in ’73’, just as Dutch Elm Disease was beginning to destroy much of Britan’s woodland, was a great success. Trees and land were donated, Local Authorities, schools, youth organisations, business and local communities did their bit and the enthusiasm generated led to the foundation of The Tree Council in the following year.

Len Urwin drew my attention to this hidden success story. We’re hoping that when ‘Bara Brith’ cafe gets even busier in the summer, some of us might be able to ‘take-away’ our tea and cake to sit out in the garden at the back. The trees will provide a welcome sunshade.

(The Tegfan family regrets that this is the last post that our original blogger was able to make. We will miss her interesting comments on life in Dinas.)

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Surprise visitor

P1020246Vicky Moller, local Plaid Cymru candidate, called this afternoon.

She is standing for election to the National Assembly for Wales, on May 5th. She’s third on Plaid Cymru’s Mid and West regional list.

Canvassing on the doorstep is a brilliant way to gauge the opinions of the electorate and the best way for voters to get to know the candidates. It’s quite rare, however, so “Well done, Vicky Moller”.

Good luck!

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Undergrounding

The imminent disappearance of these power lines and their poles really took me by surprise. Click on the notice to read what’s planned.

The delights of baby rabbits, lambs and spring flowers, however, were to be expected along the old meltwater channel between Pwllgwaelod and Cwm-yr-Eglwys. And they didn’t disappoint.
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Red Kites in Dinas

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This bird can be seen outside the blacksmiths, J E Thomas, on Feidr Fawr in Dinas.

The two red kites I failed to photograph were above the flat path between Pwllgwaelod and Cwmyreglwys. The beautiful birds didn’t seem in a hurry and turned our rather unexciting walk  into a wonderful opportunity to observe their flying display.

For brilliant photography of red kites and other local birds in the Pembrokeshire area, have a look at the blog of Lyndon Lomax. I’m so impressed!

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Our Aunt Emily

Dinas Sea Captains - Griffiths BBC - May 1948 - Brenda Richards-2

Aunt Emily earned her place among the sea captains of Dinas by having spent nine years at sea, mainly on the poop deck of the ‘Comliebank’. John Griffiths, her nephew, standing third from the left in the back row,  coaxed her story from her, and in the telling of it for BBC Wales, his Aunt Emily became Aunt Emily to all.

Emily Reynolds was brought up as the only girl in a family of 9 children on a farm in Dinas. Four of her brothers became sea captains and she got to know her future husband, Titus George when he came to help on the family farm between his sea-voyages. Dinas girls wouldn’t take a suitor seriously until he had at least a First Mate’s ticket so their courtship was by letter until the exams were passed. Emily and Titus were married by special licence in Liverpool when 1st Officer Titus George’s ship docked there in 1894. There were 4 people present for the ceremony, including Captain Harries of Dinas who was best man.

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Arctic Stream. Titus George’s ship at the time of his marriage. (Picture in public domain as copyright has expired)

They honeymooned in New Brighton for two weeks and then Titus went back to sea and Emily returned to help her mother on the farm. Titus passed more exams, captained his first ship, trading with Chile, and then, in 1903 was given command of ‘Comliebank’ a 4-masted barque that was scheduled to be at sea for two years before returning home. At this point Titus wrote to the owners saying that he’d give up command of the ship if his wife couldn’t come aboard. The owners were agreeable and Emily’s first big trip away from home was made possible with a first class ticket sent so that she could join her husband in British Columbia. She set off in September to cross the Atlantic at the time of the equinoxial gales, suffered sea sickness, marvelled at icebergs and then crossed Canada by train, across the prairies, through the Rockies until she reached Titus’ ship, loading timber in Vancouver. And she was truly impressed by her new husband’s skills as a captain. At that time of year the local farmers were offering large amounts of money to entice sailors away to help with the harvest. Some ships were delayed for weeks without a crew – but Titus lost no-one and his ship sailed away as planned.

Aunt Emily John_Henry_Mohrmann_-_The_four-masted_barque_'Comlibank'_in_the_Channel_(1895)

‘Comliebank’ by John Henry Mohrmann (1895)

Her time at sea was spent on the poop deck, quilting, sewing, woodcarving and rug-making. If it was too hot or wet for comfort she sat under awnings for protection. She’d watch shark fishing and when albatrosses were killed – and it was hard work killing them – the steward would give Emily  their white breasts so that she could have them made up into the muffs that were fashionable at the time. Whatever the weather, she relished the experiences and was up on deck to see what was to be seen and making sure she knew what decisions were being made as to the sailing of the ship.

She sailed to Australia five times altogether. On her second trip they arrived at night in the Spencer Gulf and docked at the tiny Port Germein. The ‘Comliebank’ was too long to lay alongside the quay but Emily was greeted by a band to welcome the  first lady ever to arrive in that port by ship. She got to know the large Welsh community in Sydney and attended their Welsh chapel on Sundays, travelling by train if the ship was docked at Newcastle. There were other occasions to socialise – they rarely carried passengers but sometimes stayed  for long periods at anchorage in the same area. Valparaiso, before the opening of the Panama canal in 1914, was a favoured stopping-off point for ships rounding South America and at times there would be 50 ships in the harbour. The captains and their wives would socialise and enjoy visits ashore to a thriving town with a large European immigrant population.

The weather and the scenery, however, formed her abiding memories: her first sight of the Andies, her terrifying encounters with icebergs when the lifeboats were made ready and the crew prepared to abandon ship, the Comliebank’s failure to get through the Straits of Le Maire (Tierra del Fuego) with the wind dead against and their miraculous escape by backing out stern-first. She remembered the ship catching fire, fighting gales when the sails broke loose, hanging onto life-lines fixed from the poop to the fo’c’s’le and, nearing home, fourteen days fighting a blizzard in the bay of Biscay with two members of the crew lashed to the wheel.

In 1914 the company switched from sail to steam and Emily never went to sea again.

Afterwards

  • The ‘Comliebanks’ was sold to a Norwegian company and was the first sailing ship to pass through the Panama canal. She changed name and was later torpedoed.
  • The Company awarded Emily an inkwell in recognition of her years of service. It was made from the rudder of Captain Scott’s ship ‘Discovery’ and the only other example to be made was given to HM George V.
  • Titus retired when he was nearly 50, in 1918.
  • Emily and Titus had no children but they brought up their nieces and nephews, when her brothers lost  wives, and looked after a family of evacuees during the war
  • Titus George died in 1942
  • Emily’s programme was made in 1953.
  • Dinas Historical Society re-enacted the programme and my information comes from a CD of that splendidly successful event.
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Truly free range eggs in Dinas

Look on the pavement just to the left of Dinas’ petrol station and you’ll find this black, water-proof box. Open it up and you’ll find egg boxes, free-range eggs and a money box so that you can make your purchase.

‘Free-range’ can be a bit of a weasel term but you only have to peer through the hedge to assure yourself that these hens can indeed freely range.

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The Frenchman’s Feet

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The Frenchman Motel*, Goodwick, that hosted bands such as Status Quo, The Tremeloes, The Trogs, Sassafras and Elvis Costello in the 1970s has long gone. Did these feet bop along with the fans that were drawn to the events in their hundreds, kept upright by the crush in a venue presumably officially limited to many fewer?

Does anyone recognise these feet? They rest by the piles of masonry and loose bricks that were once ‘The Frenchman’. The rubble was initially heaped high enough to provide an exciting playground for neighbouring children but it’s now reduced to hummocks and dips that will soon disappear under a spongey layer of grass and moss.

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*The Motel was above Wern Road and the railway. Click here for a postcard reminder.

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Mudlarking at Newport

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The River Nevern must have carried and dropped this weighty item into the estuarial mud and its origins are clear to anyone willing to stop and read.

The Goodwick brickworks, established in 1908 just a year after the arrival of the Great Western railway, produced bricks from the local blue shale and clay until 1969. Throughout the 60 years of its existence, the production  processes were refined and improved and in the 1920s this brickworks provided the building materials for the expansion of Milford. In its heyday the brickworks employed 40 men and produced 120,000 bricks a week.

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This very long wall of original design in Newport looks as if it might have made good use of the bricks that didn’t turn out well enough to be sold.

There were labour shortages after the war however and, by the late 1960, 30 employees produced just 60,000 bricks a week. Demand fell and competition from larger producers eventually destroyed the business. The brickyards were demolished in just one week and shortly afterwards the Frenchman’s Motel was built on part of the site.

The quarry that produced the blue shale and clay is now broadleaved woodland. Horseshoe bats nest in the vicinity and the restricted access to the site, through a single-track very low railway bridge, will probably protect the site from further development.

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Bara Brith – 5* review

P1020034Stop for refreshment at Bara Brith. Dinas’s new café  in ‘Yr Hen Ysgol’ is on the main road opposite the petrol station and it’s open from 10am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday. The menu changes daily, the staff are all local and you’ll be in for a real treat. It’s popular and if you’re late for lunch you might have to wait for a table.

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It’s easy to see why Bara Brith has been an instant success. First of all the food is wonderful.

The soup was delicious. All the ingredients had been pre-roasted and it had a decided (but not overpowering) taste of rosemary. Obviously home-made with love! The staff, attentive and friendly, were all busy and we saw quiches, ploughmans and desserts taken to other tables and we saw that  the portions were generous and the dishes tempting.

The café is in what was Mrs Perkins’ reception class (the old school is now a thriving community centre) and the other classrooms and hall are available for a wide range of activities. On one of our visits we enjoyed listening to a large choir practising in the hall across the corridor. There’s a film night on the last Friday of the month and other events advertised on the notice boards.

Around the café, on the walls and deep window ledges, there are displays of work from local artists and craftspeople.

It’s obvious that the café attracts a wide variety of customers from babies (the staff provided a high chair, warmed the baby food and stopped briefly for baby-conversation) to a group of ladies who golf and lingered over a bottle of wine*, an individual plugged into his lap-top frantically finishing a piece of work to a small family of visitors who were studying the leaflets on local walks.

There are comfortable benches in the corridor outside where, on one of our visits, we could see a little business meeting happening. There were other benches available for dog owners who can order their food in the dog-free cafe and take-it-away to the corridor outside where their (well-behaved) dogs are welcome.

For more information about what’s on offer, visit Bara Brith’s Facebook page

*bring your own.

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Sneak Preview

Sign by J E Thomas and Son, outside the old school

The Old School sign by J E Thomas and Son, outside Yr Hen Ysgol, Dinas

Dinas’ Primary School closed in 2002 but it didn’t take long for local people to negotiate, fundraise and recruit supporters so that it could open again as ‘Yr Hen Ysgol’. There are activities on offer now for everyone, ranging from a film club to craft groups, charity fundraising, play groups, ‘New Age Kurling‘, lunches and teas, bridge, table tennis , yoga and more.

Right from the beginning of the project though, as you can see if you look carefully at the road-side sign in the photo above, tea and coffee have been part of the welcome. And now the cafe has just been re-newed and it’s even better.

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Bara Brith cafe. Photo courtesy of Ann Hughes who was invited to the ‘taster’ session.

Bara Brith will be open Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm. It’s just the place for a hot drink and something to go with it. The coffee machine promises quality* and the numbered wooden spoons promise table service. If you’re looking for somewhere for a chat with friends, to meet village people, a sit down with refreshment after a country walk Bara Brith is waiting to welcome you.

*Wouldn’t the cups warm more quickly if they were upside down?

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Gedeon

Inside Gedeon Chapel Dinas Cross

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Coflein tells us that Gideon Independent Chapel was built in 1830, restored in 1930 and again in 1960. The present chapel…. is built in the Vernacular style with a long-wall entry plan. The facade dates from 1830 with improvements made in 1843. Gideon is now Grade 2 Listed.

I love Gedeon chapel and from this minister’s eye view we see the congregation, as in a classroom, ready to learn new things, to be inspired by Christian ideals of social justice and to be motivated to lead a better P1010887life. The text above the clock exhorts members to make good use of their time. The floor is slightly raked so that the people at the back can see to the front and the only advantage given to the minister is height. There’s no decoration or religious furnishings to separate the person at the front from the rest of us. Should anyone arrive late for the service they enter the chapel from one of the doors on either side of the pulpit and have to brave the welcoming eyes of the many rather than the disapproving gaze of the teacher at the front.

Anyone choosing to sit in the gallery could slip up the side stairs,  avoid passing the collection box and (I believe)  not be expected to offer a donation. This is a modest, friendly and welcoming interior designed to serve its congregation.

P1010923The chapel’s virtues are not so easily discerned from the road. You have to look up to see Gedeon  as you leave Dinas for Newport – it’s easy to miss. Although Gedeon sits high above the road, it’s not got much to dominate and all that is visible as you go past are the vestry and other bits that have been added on since 1830. But once over the steps or through the blacksmith’s gate and round the sharp end of the building

you get to the long wall entrance that, according to Coflein, defines the building’s style as vernacular.

P1010895When Gedeon was built some chapels were already being altered to re-position the entrance in the gable end; the majority of those built after the middle of the century were organised that way. Did this old fashioned orientation seem too lowly, too barn-like, inspite of the beautiful large windows that allow the light to stream in?*

The two doors in this long facade offer the worshippers the possibility of having a favourite entrance. Eirian Edwards, a long standing chapel member who also holds the key and was kind enough to show me round, remembered that my father and aunts used the left hand door. I was touched that she remembered them.

*Kathryn Wilkinson’s PhD thesis on ‘The Vernacular Origin of Welsh Nonconformist Chapels’ can be found here

P1010913Cadw has twice promised (but not yet delivered) a grant to repair the windows.

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What would John James Esq think?

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The plot of land, generously donated by John James to the Temperance Cause, now houses Fishguard’s Theatr Gwaun. It not only serves alcohol in its friendly bar but allows us to take the glass into the auditorium. Is John James, who supported the  Cause, turning in his grave?

Screen Shot of John James' diary

Photo courtesy of Chris Simpkins

Extraordinarily, we can all come to our own judgement on that question and, what’s more, get to know John James a little, by reading his diary for the year 1846. John James was born in 1814 and lived all his life on the family farm, Trenewydd, Llanwnda, west of Fishguard. It was a large farm, 200 acres or so, and there were several labourers and servants working for the family. In his diary John James records the events that held significance for him: the weather, the work on the farm, his religious life and farming and community festivals.

I now begin a new year it is the Lords Mercy,soon I must begin to live in a new World This will be the last year to many, why should I think it will be my last Have I a house not made with hands in heaven Enable me O Lord to spend this year nearer unto thee than ever before.

I now begin a new year it is the Lords Mercy, soon I must begin to live in a new world This will be the last year to many, why should I not think it will be my last Have I a house not made with hands in heaven Enable me O Lord to spend this year nearer unto thee than ever before. (Photo courtesy of Chris Simpkins)

The life of this God-fearing, devout man was spent on his farm. He seldom ventured beyond his immediate community other than to visit the local fairs, to buy or sell his livestock or to hire labour. His accounts of trips to Fishguard, Mathry and Newport all include the price paid or received for pigs, cows or horses. His one journey to Cardiff took two days in a sailing ship in strong winds and troubled seas.

On the land he grew oats, wheat, barley, hay and potatoes and was greatly occupied with moving stones, either to clear the land or to accumulate building materials – perhaps both. The weather for the year was warm and dry in the summer months but otherwise and wet with untypical heavy snows in November and December.

The early January entries remind readers that Christmas and New Year were celebrated according to the old calendar. ‘Old Xmas day’ was observed on 6th January, with fiddlers at the house who earned 1/6d for their playing and ‘Old Sallarn’ (Hen Galan) was kept on 13th January, a pig having been killed the previous day. In September, at the end of the harvest, the family provided a ‘neck’ feast, a traditional celebration with pagan roots, offering a jug of ale and a silver coin for the reapers.

Other than with farming matters John James was concerned with the life of the local chapels to which his family was very generous. He attended three different places of worship on a Sunday and biblical references make up more than half of the entries in his diary.

Over the years John James prospered. The significant legacy from his parents, his diligent stewardship of the farm, his support for the local community and his generous and genuine support for the chapel meant that he ended up as a JP and with a responsibility for the running of the local workhouse. A pillar of society.

Between 1801 and 1851 it is estimated that an independent chapel was completed every 8 days in Wales and the James family at Trenewydd were enthusiastic contributors to the growing total. But enough was probably enough and John James’ bursting bank accounts could later be tapped for other worthy causes. He owned several properties and farms rented out to others so it’s no surprise that he could donate town-centre land for development by the Temperance Cause. His diaries are low on introspection or clues as to his state of mind but a couple of comments hint that he wasn’t mean spirited. I’d guess that he’d be able to reconcile Theatr Gwaun’s bar with his Christian beliefs.

 

John James’ diary,  owned and recently brought to light by Hedydd Hughes, can now  (I think) be seen in Haverfordwest. The text, however, has been scanned and transcribed by Chris Simpkins for Prosiect Llên Natur ( Cymdeithas Edward Lloyd). She not only  deciphered the difficult handwriting and imputted 351 records into the Llên Natur Tywyddiadur database but also summarised the entries and added her own substantial research to an account on her own website. This was a fascinating project. Please click the link, make further acquaintance with John James and enjoy Chris’ work!

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