Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Legacy of Anna Thomas of Pantygarn, Eglwyswrw (1840-1907)

On September 10th 1864, two neighbouring Eglwyswrw families in north Pembrokeshire, the Lewis and Thomas families of Carnhuan and Pantygarn respectively, joined together in holy matrimony.

150 years later to the day, the same family live at the two farms in question, Carnhuan and Pantygarn and are now 3rd cousins. In 21st century rural community life, this is rare feat of endurance.

The Year? 1849
Stephen Lewis was my gg-grandfather and he moved to my maternal family farm at Carnhuan aged 27 with his father Thomas Lewis and grandparents Stephen and Eleanor Lewis in 1849. Anna Thomas meanwhile moved with her parents David (Dafydd) and Elizabeth (Leisa) Thomas as the youngest of 8 children, to neighbouring Pantygarn in that very same year of 1849 as a mere 9 year old. Anna was 18 years younger than her future husband, Stephen.

The Year? 1864
15 years later, these two families would join together when Stephen married his much younger neighbour at Cardigan Registry Office on 10th September 1864. On the marriage certificate however, it gave Stephen's age as 32 and not 42, as was in fact the case. They went on to have 6 children - David, Margaret, Elizabeth, Stephen, Griffith and Harry.

A copy of Stephen and Anna's Marriage Certificate
from 10th September 1864. Stephen was 10 years older
than stated.
Stephen Thomas Lewis, born 1870, was my great-grandfather and he would go on to farm Carnhuan after the death of his uncle Griffith (his father Stephen Lewis' older brother) in 1895. The farm then continued in the family through his son John Rees Lewis (1909-1991) and to this present day with his son, my Uncle Howard Lewis.

The family of the youngest of the 6 children meanwhile, Harry, would go on to farm the maternal farm at Pantygarn through his son-in-law Daniel Morgan. Daniel's grandson Harry Lewis Morgan (see what they did there?!) now runs the farm with his young family.

Anna Thomas (1840-1907) & Stephen Lewis 1821-1924)
What then happened to the original pairing that gave us today in 2014 the owners of these two neighbouring farmsteads?

Stephen went on to live to the grand old age of 102. Born in late December 1821, he died in April 1924. His obituary referred to him as the 'Grand Old Man of Pembrokeshire'.

His much younger wife Anna however had predeceased him by over 16 years in December 1907 after 43 years of marriage. But despite her relative youth compared to that of her husband, there was no doubting the boss in this relationship.

Bethabara Baptist Chapel
Because Anna was the daughter of a staunch Baptist family. Her parents had started up the local Sunday School from their Ty Rhos home in the foothill of the Preseli Hills in the early 1820s before her father Dafydd, a mason helped to build the local Baptist Chapel, Bethabara at Pontyglasier near Crosswell in 1826.

The children were all brought up with the faith with two of Anna's brothers going into the Ministry - Stephen Thomas and Benjamin Thomas were well regarded Baptist Ministers and the latter a well known Welsh Bard who worked under the Bardic name 'Myfyr Emlyn'.

Stephen's family were Anglican - he was baptised in June 1822 at Eglwyswen Church - within half a mile of the soon to be founded Bethabara Baptist Chapel. By 1864, now living in Eglwyswrw, the local village church was just down the road from the farmsteads of Carnhuah and Pantygarn. Bethabara Chapel meanwhile was a further distance away but to which were the 6 children sent?

Yes, Anna wore the trousers here and David, Margaret, Elizabeth, Stephen, Griffith and Harry were sent to chapel...and not to church.

The main two protagonists moving forward, Stephen Thomas Lewis and Harry Lewis, were deacons at Bethabara, long after their parents were both buried there in the shadows of the main building and within a short distance of Anna's devout parents Dafydd and Leisa Thomas who died in 1874 and 1864 respectively. The former passed away on Christmas Day and the latter just 6 weeks before the marriage of her youngest child.

The Legacy of Anna Thomas
I knew that sometime, somewhere, I would be baptised. My simple but quiet faith has over the years been tested but deep down, it was more a matter of when, not if.

I attended Martletwy Sunday School in the south of the county and with my paternal grandparents interred there, I always believed that the same would be said for me. But when my father passed away and on his instructions was interred at my maternal chapel home at Bethabara in the north of the county, it made me re-consider everything.

After many years of thoughtful consideration, my family history odyssey of late, with the exceptional influence of Anna Thomas in the forefront of my mind, finally helped me make up my mind.

So it was in early July this year that I was baptised in the external baptismal pool in the cemetery grounds at Bethabara, within a small distance of the final resting places of my father, my maternal grandfather John Rees Lewis and his wife Sarah Anne Morgans, his parents Stephen Thomas Lewis and Martha John Rees and his parents of course, Stephen Lewis and Anna Thomas. Not forgetting her own parents Dafydd and Leisa Thomas.

I felt as if I'd come home and as I moved from the chapel towards the vestry for some light refreshments, I planted a kiss on the headstone of old Stephen and his dominant wife Anna.

Had their families not have moved to Carnhuan and Pantygarn respectively in that year of 1849, it is highly unlikely that they would have married 15 years later on this day, 150 years ago. In which case of course, I would not be here now, telling you their rather unique story.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Rolf Harris - GUILTY of Child Abuse

Devastated isn't the word.

I adored Rolf Harris. Didn't we all?

I loved the man. Loved his art. Loved his humanity with animals. Loved, absolutely loved, his eccentric musical career.

As the court case progressed, I became increasingly uneasy at what was coming to light.

His letter written to the parents of one of his accusers many years ago told us of a dark side to Rolf Harris that none of us knew about. He had kept it so well hidden.

Also, his claim to have never been to Cambridge, only for archive TV footage to be found that showed him in a 'It's a Knockout' style programme from Cambridge that was hosted by Michael Aspell.

The jury had been out, considering its verdict, for over a week. The longer they were deliberating, the more I became sure that some guilty verdicts may be returned.

But for a clean sweep of 12 verdicts of indecent assault to be given against him still came as a shock. He remains on bail before he returns to court on Friday to be sentenced. Surely, it will be a custodial sentence. He deserves nothing less and his victims deserve nothing less.

I am just left feeling lost that a happy part of my childhood has been wiped out as a lie. Just as it was with Jimmy Saville.

For generations of us, this collective memory has failed us and episodes of past vintage television programmes now will be destroyed or hidden into the dark recesses of the media archives.

As I said, I particularly loved his music and despite gentle ridicule from friends over many years, proudly claimed ownership of his 'Best of'...' album. 'Jake the Peg', 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down', 'Sun Arise' and his iconic 1969/1970 Number One, 'Two Little Boys' were just a few of the favourites. I adored them.

Now, I have destroyed that CD as a result of this afternoon's verdicts. Just as he has destroyed a part of my childhood. Just as his own reputation has been left in tatters.

My thoughts and condolences are with his victims at this difficult time.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Helping Others - 10 Years as a Ceredigion County Councillor

The 9th of June 2003 was the worst day of my life as my father departed this life and left a bereaved family in his wake.

My 2004 election
The following year was particularly tough. His first birthday, the first Christmas, the first New Year after his passing - they're always the toughest. It accumulated in the first anniversary of his loss a year later. Which made the following day, significant in an additional way.

For the 10th of June 2004 saw me standing in front of Cardigan Guildhall, welcoming voters to the polling booth in the traditional Cardigan way, alongside other Cardigan town candidates in the local authority elections of that year.

Head-to-Head - The Tivy Side article on the eve of the
election in 2004.
I was only 21 and despite living in Aberystwyth at the time (where I also stood for Aberystwyth Town Council), I had ventured over the previous 3 weeks to knock on every door in what was the newly created ward of Cardigan Rhyd-Y-Fuwch. I had no expectation of winning but wanted to give local residents a choice - and it was a choice between myself or my 73 year old Plaid Cymru opponent Melfydd George.

The count itself that evening was an emotional one. My mother, as well as her cousin Beatrice Davies and my eldest brother Huw all came along and in the emotional context of this being 366 days after the death of William Lance Cole, the last thing our nerves really needed was a nail-biting finish in the ward count - but that's what we got. In the end, amidst some tears and an over-riding sense of fatigue, that then green 21 year old squeezed home an unexpected winner with the wafer-thin majority of 18 votes.

The Cambrian News article from the
17th June - except I was actually only
the 4th youngest Welsh Councillor!
The Chains of Office
It has been the greatest privilege over the following 10 years to have served the residents of my ward to the best of my ability. This was made much easier when I moved permanently to live in town in the December of 2005. Until then, I combined my commitments with those of also being an elected Town Councillor in Aberystwyth (by a 19 vote majority!) - as Charles Kennedy the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats called it in a personally hand-written letter to me the week after the election, 'a veritable double whammy'!

I stood down from Aberystwyth in 2008 and stood for Cardigan Town Council to better compliment my county council duties and at the latter level, was returned with 86% of the vote and within a year, was being sworn in as one of Cardigan's youngest-ever Mayors at age 26. Come 2012, re-election with 76% of the vote quickly followed with my being sworn in as Ceredigion County Council's youngest-ever Chairman at age 29.

Throughout those years, I have kept resolutely to a philosophy of being approachable and open to the residents of my ward (and sometimes beyond!), working without favour and regardless of politics. Over the years, as a community we have resolved the troublesome 'Tesco Junction', seen Cardigan Castle slowly emerge from the shadows and watched as the Bathhouse and 'balls on the river' sagas nearly tore our town in two. We continue to fight for proper in-patient beds in our new 'Hospital' and we await news on whether Sainsbury's will actually move into Bathhouse after all...or not.

Western Mail article from 14th June 2004 - except I
was actually only the 4th youngest Welsh Councillor!
In the meantime, as well as these bigger things, I've continued to the best of my ability to help with those little things that make a big difference to the quality of life of those living in our community - fixing those pot-holes, mending those broken street lights, and getting the grass cut. It may not be sexy politics, but it's what counts.

It's a matter of remembering that the role of the local Councillor is to be 'the voice of the community in the Council' as opposed to being 'the voice of the Council in the community' which inevitably is what many Councillors become after unwittingly 'going native' after many years on the Council.

Within that Council, based in Aberaeron, I have had good relations with colleagues of all political colours. Indeed, only today an external advisor from the Centre for Public Scrutiny, reporting back on his observations of Ceredigion's scrutiny process, stated that...

"Relationships between Cabinet and Scrutiny appear to be generally sound and there is evidence of mature attitudes, goodwill, mutual respect and good personal relationships".

The hand-written letter from Charles
Kennedy MP, then leader of the
Liberal Democrats.
This is pleasing to read because, as boring as it may sound, this is actually the case. Despite political and policy differences, I have always found working with my Council colleagues to be more a pleasure than a burden. We get on well individually and as a result, the scrutiny relationship between executive and legislature is more productive.

But it's the residents back in Cardigan that matter most.

The Future 
It's a wonderfully fickle thing, the future.

Losing Dad aged 20 on the eve of my graduation in Aberystwyth University forced me to instill in myself a steely resolve to live my life to the full and a life-long desire to help others and make a difference in life flowed naturally from that.

Whatever the future may hold, I can look back with pride at having, above all else, served the wonderful residents of Cardigan Rhyd-Y-Fuwch Ward on Ceredigion County Council for over a decade.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

'An Educated Lady' from Eglwyswrw. The Story of a woman I never met - my grandmother Sarah Anne Morgans

My blog has laid fallow for some time but I return on the back of my growing genealogical research to commemorate the life of my maternal grandmother Sarah Anne Lewis (nee Morgans) of Nantyrhelygen Fawr and latterly of Carnhuan in Eglwyswrw, north Pembrokeshire.

Sarah Anne (or 'Sal' as she was known to friends), passed away suddenly on 4th April 1964 - today marks the eve of the 50th anniversary of that sad day.

I never knew my grandmother (having been born in 1982 myself) but relatively recent family discoveries have shone a light on a rather incredible life.

It was a life that stretched far beyond the boundaries of the community where she was born and in which she would return to marry and nurture a young family. It was a life that her own children knew next to nothing about until over 30 years after her death. It is one that deserves the recognition of a wider audience.

I am therefore incredibly grateful to Keith Johnson, the editor of the popular 'Pembrokeshire Life' Magazine for publishing my 1,500 word article along with illustrative photos and historical documents on Sarah Anne's life in this month's April edition in time for this poignant anniversary.

It is the second time that he has published an article of mine in the space of 6 months and I sincerely thank him for that.

I publish here then, this most recent three page article and in so doing, pay my respects to a woman I never met but to whom I have great affection and to whom I owe a great deal.

Cysga'n dawel Mamgu.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Wearing a Wedding Ring

Apologies for the lack of attention to this blog of late but work and personal commitments have well and truly taken over.

Primarily of course was the big day last month when Alyson and I wed at Cardigan's Guildhall.

It was a beautiful day and the fine weather was only bettered by the wonderful company of family and close friends as Alyson and I made the marital leap after nearly 4 years together.

The Guildhall was a magnificent venue and gave us ample room for 120 guests. The order of ceremony was I would like to think, unique! As a civil ceremony, no hymns or prayers were allowed so we opted for poems in Welsh and English and some memorable songs for the congregation to sing - ABBA's 'I Have A Dream' and to close, Morecambe & Wise's 'Bring Me Sunshine'!

We were greeted on our exit after the ceremony in the Guildhall Courtyard by a throng of well-wishers and Santes the Shire Horse from the family's Dyfed Shire Horse Farm. She stood perfectly still for 45 minutes as photos were expertly taken by Helen E. Davies and Tracey Rees (and many others!) before she led us both through Cardigan town centre.

The wedding breakfast and evening party was held at Nantyffin in Llandissilio and it was great fun! The welcome and the homely food was everything locals have come to expect of this popular venue. Carwyn Tywyn welcomed guests with his Harp and in the evening after everyone had ate and the speeches had been delivered (no problem for me but then I had to take the embarrassment from Best Woman Liz!), Alyson and I arrived at the dance floor to a triple-medley first dance - the anthemic 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' by Richard Strauss brought us to the floor ready for Elvis Presley's 'The Wonder of You' before we then upped the tempo with Sham Rock's 'Tell Me Ma'!

Meanwhile, for those not so keen on the 60s/70s/80s/90s wedding party disco, we had in the foyer running all evening, some of Dad's old farm videos that he had filmed and edited, so even in his absence 10 years on, we could still hear his voice on my big day. It was a popular draw with many Eglwyswrw residents who were making to leave at 10.30pm still sitting down on the sofas in the foyer nearing midnight! Also, I gather Emyr our security doorman was also a fan!

With a week's break to relax after what was a perfect wedding day for us both, we went to New York and Washington DC for a 10-day Honeymoon. I had visited New York before but saw so much more this time. My visit to DC meanwhile was a first and I adored it. For Alyson, America in its entirety was a new experience and she had a great time too!

We stayed in Downtown New York within just 2 blocks of Wall St and the World Trade Centre complex whilst in DC, we stayed on 14th St overlooking Franklin Square - just 4 blocks away from the White House. Good planning Coley!

A wonderful holiday finished with cocktails at sunset in the roof-top bar of Washington's 'W' Hotel overlooking President Barack Obama's official residence in the company of my 3rd cousin Lauren and her husband Antony whose local knowledge guided us to that wonderful venue! Brilliant!

We would like to sincerely thank everyone for their best wishes and greetings of great joy for us both.

As for the wedding ring? For one that has never worn or been keen on jewelry of any kind, I've taken to it like a duck to water!