Making the most of things: the last swim of summer. Doesn’t it make you want to rush in too – if only for a paddle?
It was an extraordinary find, so tucked away. For a couple of days we’d been reading the signs to Kiln Odyn, but the message had not been sinking in. And then it did. And off we went – a short walk from the Castle Inn where we were staying, and up a little alley beside the old Memorial Hall and there it was: the best surviving medieval pottery kiln in the United Kingdom.
Stranger still was the story of its discovery. In 1921 the people of Newport began work on the building of a Memorial Hall in remembrance of community members who had died in the Great War. In the midst of digging the foundations, builders uncovered two medieval kilns. The National Museum of Wales was alerted. Its director, Dr. Mortimer Wheeler, so-called ‘father of British archaeology, was swift to ensure the site was preserved. This included having the National Museum put up the £20 he said was needed to adapt the building plans and so keep the archaeological site intact within the new Hall’s basement. A trap door would provide access to the remains..
And so it remained for nearly a century until 2016 when the community decided the Memorial Hall facilities were badly in need of an update. There followed a scheme of creative refurbishment and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which meant the kilns, by now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, could also be re-excavated, conserved and put on permanent view. All it took was the installation of a very big window in the side of the building and some heavy-duty spotlights.
Also added were some very thoughtful outdoor information panels designed by students of Carmarthen College. Their artwork brings medieval Newport to life. We meet the master potter and his family and see how they might have lived and worked.
We’re also told what a busy market town Newport would have been during the lifetime of the kilns (c1470-1530); not only a port exporting goods, which may well have included the jars and jugs from the pottery, but also a stopping place on the pilgrims’ route to St. David’s in south Pembrokeshire. And in 1485 we are also told there was a very particular event: Henry Tudor passed by the town, and what a sight that would have been – an army 2,000 strong, marching on to Bosworth to win the English crown and found a new royal dynasty. One of the panels further conjectures that the potter’s son might have gone off to join the army, escaping the hard work of digging, potting and firing for the thrill of battle and adventures in foreign parts.
Kiln Odyn produced high quality domestic wares of the day: cooking pots and pitchers, alembics for lotions and potions, ridge roof tiles for high status buildings. The work, from digging the clay to selling the pots would have involved the whole family, skills passed down the generations. The Lord Marcher, who owned all the lands, took his cut of the potter’s profits instead of charging him rent.
Credit: artwork by the students of Carmarthen College.
From yesterday’s communing with seals to today’s ‘sealing the knot’ – Pembrokeshire’s beaches certainly provided us with plenty of interest. It was our last afternoon and we had been lounging for an hour or so on Newport Sands, soaking up the last of the Indian Summer sunshine, an activity we rarely go in for, when the urge to have a seaside ice cream came upon us. As we headed for the cafe behind the beach, we bumped into this couple who had just got married. They and their dog were going down to the sea to make their wedding film. It made us a smile and smile and we wished them our very best good luck wishes.
*marriage lines another term for a marriage certificate – Collins English Dictionary
It was hard to tear myself away from Tregwynt Mill; unexpected burst of hot September sun or no, there was a strong inclination to curl up among Welsh tweed quilts and cushions on the showroom bed. To distract myself from wool-lust I suggested we walked down to the sea. It’s not far, I tell Graham, he who too often suspects me of total map-reader-error. I was surprised when he agreed.
We followed the course of the stream that had once powered several mills in the valley. The lane was bosky, enclaves of deep and mossy shade, then sudden sprinkles of sunlight through sycamore, ash and alder. There were old walls, built in the local style of vertically laid stones wherein strap ferns and pennywort had found a root-hold.
After about half a mile we found the sign to the coastal path, and almost at once, there we were, looking down on Abermawr beach. The cove itself was sparse in humanity, and we found out why when we got down there. The pebbles were so heaped up and huge they were almost impossible to walk over. Most people were passing by, following the cliff trail that crossed at the back of the cove. We perched on some rounded rocks and tried to locate the source of the strange barking calls to seaward. And then we saw it. And it saw us. And in between sunning its face, it watched me taking its photo. Nor was it alone. Its partner (parent perhaps) was somewhere out in the bay, doubtless doing some fishing, but whenever it returned to the cove it did not seem keen to show much of itself.
And so a chance walk proved to be one of life’s blissful moments, a piece of happenstance that won’t be forgotten, sitting by a blue sea, under blue sky, dreamy warmth, blue coastline of Llyn Peninsula barely there on the sea-line, and now and then meeting the eye of a sun-bathing seal.
As defensive promontories go, it could not be better, eight 9-pounder guns set in a fan formation to protect the bays off Fishguard. The guns were in place too in February 1797 when the forces of republican France invaded nearby. (See previous post for ‘the last invasion of mainland Britain.’) Warning blanks were fired from the fort as soon as one of the invader ships was spotted approaching Fishguard, but thereafter it played no part in defending town from the invasion. There are various accounts as to why this was, one being the place was short of cannon balls.
The young commander of the local Fishguard Fencibles and Newport volunteer infantry, Thomas Knox, was at a party when news of invasion reached him by messenger. He had bought his commission and never seen action and so, thinking the invading force too large to handle, he decided the best course of action was retreat south with his men towards Haverfordwest and there meet up with reinforcements.
He thus left Fishguard to its fate, ordering the fort guns to be spiked, an order that was in fact refused by the three invalid Woolwich gunners appointed to man the fort’s heavy ordnance. On the road, Knox met up with Lord Cawdor and his forces coming the other way, and after a dispute as to who was in charge, Lord Cawdor marched on with their combined manpower to Fishguard and victory.
In fact Fishguard Fort never does seem to have had much of a military function. It was finally built in 1781 to defend the town after an unfortunate incident that took place in 1779. It was the time of the American War of Independence when attacks on British shipping was considered fair game. An American privateer, Black Prince, captured a local ship and held it for ransom, demanding £1,000. When the townspeople refused to pay, the Black Prince bombarded Fishguard, damaging St. Mary’s church and some of the houses.
One account then has it that a local smuggler, sailing a much smaller vessel, moved in on the privateer and opened fire until the Black Prince departed. After that it was down to Sir Hugh Owen, Lord Lieutenant of Pembrokeshire, who decided to buy the piece of land on the promontory and finance the building of a small fort. But by 1815, and the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the fort was already falling into ruin. And so it remains.
Today it is a very excellent look-out point for some coastal viewing along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. For one thing you can watch the coming and going of the Stena Line ferry from Goodwick Harbour, the four-times-a-day departures and arrivals between Fishguard and Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland, filling the heart with thoughts of voyaging.
We’d only popped into Fishguard library for a map of the town so we could begin our explorations, and this is what we found: a magnificent creation of crewel-work that can surely hold its own alongside the Bayeux Tapestry which inspired it.
Both works tell of invasions of Great Britain by French forces, but whereas one is an 11th century account of ‘conquest successful’ (and probably everyone who knows a bit of British history will know about 1066 and William the Conqueror), the other marks a bicentennial commemoration of the last invasion of mainland Britain – a two-day shambles in February 1797, when 1400 soldiers of the French Revolutionary Government were put ashore near Fishguard with orders to conquer.
It seems the soldiers were not of the highest calibre militarily speaking. Only 600 were regulars, the rest were apparently ex-convicts recently released from gaol, and all were under the somewhat elderly command of an Irish-American colonel, one William Tate. Things went wrong from the start. Bad weather prevented French ships from landing the troops at their intended objective near Bristol, and instead they retreated into Cardigan Bay. And when the force was finally landed, and their ships sailed off, abandoning them, many of the soldiers ran amok, looking for food, raiding farmhouses and were quickly beyond control.
On the Welsh side there was also much pandemonium as the local gentry were charged to raise an army. Lots of summoning and gathering hither and thither, an inexperienced young gent initially put in charge of defending militia and making a hash of it. Meanwhile Jemima Nicholas (Jemima Fawr or ‘the great’ as she was later a known), wife of the local cobbler, set forth with a pitchfork, rounded up 12 Frenchmen and marched them into Fishguard where she locked them in the church before resuming her hunt.
In the end Lord Cawdor, commanding British militias gathered from across Pembrokeshire, won the day, though a tale has it that the French only accepted unconditional surrender because they mistook the Welsh women come to watch as the gathering of a large British army. The women were wearing their traditional tall black hats and red shawls.
As you can see, the tapestry is a delight. Every inch of it brimming with humour and finely executed detail, and all of it using much the same stitch work found in medieval embroidery. The designer, Elizabeth Cramp, also followed a similar lay-out to the Bayeux Tapestry. At 53 cm wide it is a similar depth, although its 30 metre length makes it less than half that of the Bayeux version. It anyway took 77 local people four years to complete and now belongs to a local charitable trust: Fishguard Invasion Centre Trust Ltd. A veritable tour de force.
It was also very difficult to photograph, what with the spotlights and reflections. And I’m sorry I missed catching Jemima Fawr with her pitchfork. But if you go to the link HERE you can spot her in the middle of the header photo and learn more about the making of the tapestry and the names of all those diligent workers who so skilfully applied their needles and threads.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
Line Squares #3 Join Becky with her October Squares challenge; the only rule: your header photo (showing lines however you see them) in square format.
It was decided. We would have a sun-downer supper at Parrog Quay, sitting in the old seaside shelter above the little estuary. Behind us the Mountain of Angels, Mynydd Carn Ingli, already shadowy, to the west the rounded promontory of Dinas Head (Pen Dinas) backlit by sunset, the little row of stalwart, old sea salt dwellings along the quay, before us the mud flats and their moored small boats where the last of the light still lingered here and there, and curve of the Nevern with a lone canoeist heading out to sea, the still, wide expanse of Cardigan Bay beyond.
We’d gathered provisions in a delicatessen in Fishguard – runny Brie cheese, fat olives stuffed with garlic, some Welsh cheesy crackers that looked like waffles, black grapes and a few slices of salami. There was a bottle of French organic wine brought from home (grand merci Virgile Joly), and I’d also thought to bring my large wool Indian wrap in case we grew shivery later. The day had been warm but already the nights were saying autumn.
And then we sat and we watched, and watched and watched, until the light was gone.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
Who’d’ve thought it: Welsh Tweed that in the 1960s seemed so fuddy-duddy and old woolly tea-cosy-ish has been transformed into a substance of loveliness and huge desirability, and all thanks to some cunning tweaking on the design front. And the place where they are doing much creative tweaking of this most traditional of Welsh industries is Pembrokeshire, West Wales. (Some of you may remember my trip to Solva last year). Ten days ago we meandered our way down narrow lanes just south of Fishguard to visit Melin Tregwynt.
It stands in a narrow wooded valley not far from the sea, and has been worked by members of the Griffiths family since 1912, when Henry Griffiths bought the place for £760. He took over premises that had their origins in the 17th century, the looms driven by water power from the nearby stream. Today Tregwynt’s looms are high-tech, but the weaving shed still houses an old waterwheel. And apart from producing wonderful cloth that feels like heaven, the other brilliant thing about this enterprise is that it employs over 30 local people, and is otherwise a fantastic place to visit with a very excellent shop and cafe.
And, in case you’re wondering, we did not come home empty-handed:
Line Squares Today’s the first day of Becky’s October Squares: – lines, however you find them.
Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey is only an island at high tide. Mostly it is a narrow spit reaching out across Llanddwyn Bay to the mountains of the Welsh mainland. It is named after the early 5th century Christian mystic, Dwynwen who, unhappy in love, is said to have retreated to the island, living out her days there alone. Later she became known as the Welsh patron saint of lovers, and in medieval times pilgrims would flock to the island in hopes of divining the faithfulness of their own loves at Dwynwen’s well. In fact so much revenue was raised from the pilgrims’ quest for true love that in the 16th century a substantial chapel was built on what was believed to be Dwynwen’s own place of sanctuary. You see the chapel ruins if you go there today.
The lighthouse was built in 1845 to guide shipping entering the Menai Strait from the south. Now it serves mostly as a very striking landmark, viewed here on a blustery Christmas morning a few years ago.