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.

Posted in History, Religion, Welsh language | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

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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Strung along in Dinas

I wonder how many of us have a little corner in the knickernsock drawer, or perhaps an old cigar box on the desk, that acts as a final repository for small sad broken items with sentimental value: dad’s gold fountain pen, mum’s wind-up watch or old beads unstrung.

P1010187I was recently encouraged to do something about my accumulations by this card, pinned to the community notice board in Kiel House. A phone call promised me an appointment the next day and my little bags of beads were assessed with a professional eye.

Within a couple of days the job had been done and I returned to the house in Bwlchmawr, Dinas, to collect.

My beads, soundly restrung and secured with new clasps  awaited me on the workroom table, among the tools of the trade and a dazzling array of further possibilities.

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Threads

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Behind this modest facade you’ll find what could be considered the HQ of the local textile craftspeople – of whom there are many. Twin sisters Catriona and Penelope, who run Jane’s Wool Shop and its lively Facebook page, have a great stock of wools, embroidery threads, cotton, ribbons, quilting materials, zips, daylight lamps, beading bits, buttons and more. Having inherited the shop from their mother and grandmother, they have several lifetimes’ accumulated knowledge and experience and their own artistic gifts are evident all over the shop which now extends from 14 – 18 on Fishguard’s High Street.

P1010963This shop is a reason in itself to travel to Fishguard. You’ll find the inspiration, the materials and the support for your new craft project and I’m sure that in the big coffee shop at the back you’ll find like-minded friendly individuals who’ll know when the local crochet club meets and the best way to achieve neat buttonholes in double-knitting.

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