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A Day in Newcastle Emlyn

By Canon D. PARRY-JONES, B.A. Author of Welsh Country Upbringing, etc.

SOME few years ago I spent a very enjoyable and profitable day at Newcastle Emlyn and had a chat about old times with three or four of its inhabitants. Vivid memories of early, exciting days always attract me to the town — memories of its great fairs at the turn of the century, to which we came driving cattle that were as excited and scared as we were. There are two Newcastle Emlyns — the one that we see today when we walk its streets and the one that existed at the end of the last century, which has now vanished out of sight and is all forgotten except by the oldest of its inhabitants. This was the Newcastle Emlyn I wanted to live in again if only for an hour or two, and, fortunately, I met two or three persons who enabled me to do so.

These notes are intended for The Carmarthenshire Historian and though Newcastle Emlyn is in the county it is a town tucked away in a far corner and right on the boundary — indeed, has thrown a limb across the boundary into Cardiganshire (Atpar) — that I am not sure how conscious its inhabitants are of the fact that they are Carmarthenshire people, for the town itself is the historic, social, religious and market centre of a large area of country, extending to a radius of eight to ten miles around it: a great chunk of Pembrokeshire, mid South Cardiganshire as far as the sea and that area in the watershed of the Teifi between its tributaries, the Cuch and the Tweli. One tends not to think of it as part of Carmarthenshire — or part of anything else — but as a centre, in its own right, of a historic homogeneous area.

I said is was a social centre; especially was it so of the local gentry. Many years ago, the station master at the time told me that he remembered counting twenty-six carriages drawn up in front of the station when there was a ball in one of the mansions. They used to come in on Tuesdays for the tennis matches — and when these ceased, curtsying also ceased in the town, so I was told. I used to be curtsied to by one or two old ladies in Radnorshire, in the late 'twenties when I was Vicar there. It was part of the old world, and disappeared with it almost without notice or comment, along with so much else.

I spoke to a retired doctor in Atpar who pointed to the Drovers' Arms, noted for its potent brew. Each client, he said, had his own particular chair there for his evening visit, and if he went in and found another in it, he would never go in again. This was the time when there were family pews in churches and chapels. One was not accustomed to thinking of the practice as applying to taverns as well, and I remember being somewhat surprised when told of it. It has long gone and is on the way out, too, in all the places of worship.

I called in to see the sadler, below the Emlyn Arms, possibly because I felt there was some affinity between him and me, for four of my brothers were sadlers. We talked of old days and amongst the things he told me was that Beynon who shot Hislop in that fatal duel, hid the first night, so his father said, in the cellar under his workshop.

The Kindly Landlady
But the longest chat I had was with Mr. Tom James, of High Street. I called a few years later, armed with a few more prepared questions—but I was too late! On this occasion we were sitting down not far from the Carriers Arms, where father often called and spoke well always of "Boys y Carriers". They could not be but good-natured fellows for they had a wonderfully kind-hearted mother — Rachel Williams. If anybody, so Mr. James told me, had tuppence in his pocket to go in, he could sit there and drink all night, for when a new customer came in she would go to his table or his corner and fill his pint from a big jug in which she always drew her beer, and on the way back she filled all the empty, or half-empty, glasses of all the other customers until it was all gone. She never took a spot back with her to the bar. No man coming in the worse for drink could get a spot there: Iesu Bach (her favourite expression, which has almost a medieval ring about it), na chewch, and he would have to go and try elsewhere. I feel that this good old lady is worthy of a brief note of remembrance for her kind-heartedness, and as typiflying the sort of citizen old Newcastle Emlyn could produce.

The sons used to buy pigs in North Pembrokeshire and in the country around, which were housed in big sheds at the back of the house until they had a sufficient number to take to Llandyssul station — that was the time before the railway was extended to Newcastle Emlyn, and the poor pigs had to walk all the way. It was a hot and tiring journey and a few became lame or began to fail — for such, a donkey cart always accompanied them. The others, footsore and hot, when they came to Pentre Cwrt and heard the sound of the water in the brooks, Dilen and Shedi, just rushed headlong into them to cool themselves. And what a job it was to get them out again! From Llandyssul the men returned by coach, leaving the donkey, after tying his reins to the cart, to look after himself, but he was a wise creature — he followed the coach, bumper to bumper, all the way, stopping dead in front of the Carriers Arms.

From the Carriers Arms, Mr. James turned to the Emlyn Arms, under the proprietorship of Mr. John Jones, who, in the old days of coaches — before the railway was continued to Newcastle Emlyn kept about thirty carriage horses. He had two three-horse carriages, one two-horse, and many one-horse hansoms. If there were more than one passenger to be carried he would provide a heavier hansom and two horses. He made three runs from Cardigan to Llandyssul every day, and on each run the horses were changed at Newcastle Emlyn. Of course, when they arrived at the Emlyn Arms they were running with perspiration and their bodies white with froth. After taking them out of the carriages, the first thing they did was to take them down the back to a very deep pool in the Teifi—Pwll-Daft-William. Men had already gone round to the Cardiganshire side ready to pull them across with long ropes attached to the halter. In the same manner they were pulled back again through the same pool. The older horses knew what was coming and jumped into the pool to get it over; the young ones hesitated a bit, but as the land dipped suddenly to the pool, they were in before they knew. After their dip they were led back to the stables and given a vigorous rub-down with straw. The proprietor boasted that in this way he never lost a single horse, for once they were out of the pool, their over-heated bodies were cool and fresh, and their tiredness had vanished into the Teifi.

I was most fortunate in that I met Mr. James that day for he was well-informed on many matters that belonged to a world that had just vanished round the corner. Whether he had taken part in liming convoys I don't remember now; however, I was told that a neighbourhood would arrange to go together, and as many as thirty carts would start from Newcastle Emlyn, — two men in each cart, alternately sleeping and on watch, as on board ship. They carried feeds for their horses, bread and cheese for themselves and a small barrel of beer to wash it down with. We must remember, of course, that they travelled by night when no public house would be open and cafes and snack-bars had not come into existence then. The going was probably quite leisurely until they passed through the Carmarthen turnpike-gate; it was from here on that they got up steam so as, if possible, to arrive back there before mid-night, for toll was only paid once in twenty-four hours

A Centenarian's Story
According to the notes I made at the time, Mr. Evan Jones, the aged shoemaker was still alive — 102 that year — and I was able to visit him at Glaziers Row and have a very interesting chat with him. I found him sitting by the fireside, apparently quite well, eager to talk, eye-sight and memory apparently unimpaired. And though he looked frail and wan he didn't look anything like his great age. After congratulating him and explaining who I was, we plunged at once into tales and descriptions of old-time Newcastle Emlyn, in which of course, he had the advantage over us all, an advantage that he seemed happy to enjoy. He told me one thing which I could hardly believe and which I have refrained from repeating to this day, as I felt that such a thing could not in all its long history have happened in Newcastle Emlyn. It is this, more than anything else, that has held up the publication of these notes until now. I remembered that Mr Jones was a very old man, and could be excused if things got a bit mixed up in his mind; and, consulted as he must have been by so many on the old days, he possibly could have got unconsciously into the habit, in order to impress his hearer, of embellishing the picture and exaggerating the details. I didn't know what to think: the result was that the story has been kept back all these years,

This is what he told me: In a field called Cae Shibbedo right up above — and he pointed in that direction — they used in the old to put law-breakers to death. Shibbedo is a word that has very likely come to us from the English word 'gibbet' (Anwyl gives, as its equivalent, sibedu). It was in very common use when I was a child, but it had by then been refined and tamed down to mean just a shaking: Mother would say when we had been very naughty: fe roia i shibbedad i chi. It consisted of taking hold of us about the shoulders and giving us a good shaking, and something from which we recovered in a very few moments. In a few borrowed words we have softened the consonant t into d as in bucket (bwced) and pulpit (pwlpud), though the reverse — the hardening of the consonants — is the more usual process. In addition to crogbren and crogi, Anwyl also gives gosod yn waradwydd: to put to shame, to disgrace, to insult. However, in this Cae Shibbedo law-breakers were put to death, and in the following manner: They were tied to a post, a table was set before them, with a loaf of bread at one end and a glass of water at the other, but both out of reach of the condemned man, and here he was suffered to remain until he died either of starvation or of exposure.

I did not then question the credibility of the story but I wondered, as I said, how much reliance should be put on a person who was so very old. I could hardly believe that the people of Newcastle Emlyn, at any time, however terrible his crime, could allow a man to die in this inhuman manner amongst them. It was only after I had come across instances of equally inhuman treatment meted out to law-breakers in other parts of Wales that my mind reverted again to the cae (or parc) shibbedo story of Newcastle Emlyn, and the thought occured to me that Evan James's mind could very well be the last repository where such ancient tales had survived, tales not so often told once religion and other interests had begun to occupy the minds of the people at the beginning of the last century. These are two of the stories that made me think again — the first, taken from "Bye-gones" (Welsh), Vol. II, 1874-5. p. 258, and the second from the Vale of History (p. 70) (The Story of the Vale of Glamorgan): (i) "The following extraordinary account of an execution has been given by an old man, now, or lately, living in Monmouthshire, who spoke of it as having actually fallen under his own observation: Two persons who had been convicted of murder, or some other serious crime, were placed in a sort of cage on the top of a hill, called the Garn, where they were left to perish by starvation. This, however, did not happen very shortly, as some persons infringed the prohibition to give them any sustenance by secretly supplying them with food during the night. In this manner their lives might have been preserved for a considerable time, had they not succumbed in a few days rather to cold than to starvation. Can this mode of execution have been a relic of the old law prevailing in the marches . . . .?" (ii) "Probably the most gruesome entry in the Glamorgan Plea Rolls is that relating to the fate of David ap Hopkin, who was tried at Cardiff in July 1574. The charge was that he had committed murder . . in addition . . . (he had) committed the grave offence of standing mute on trial, and for this he was condemned to death in the following terms . . .'That David ap Hopkin is to be put naked on the ground except his breeches and a hole made under his head and his head put into it and as much stone and iron put upon his body as it will carry and more, and he is to be fed on bread and water of the worst kind, bread on one day and water another day, and so kept alive until he dies'." Folk memory had evidently survived in Newcastle Emlyn till the last days of Evan Jones.

A Rogue Admired
I remember well the great fairs of Newcastle Emlyn — Ffair lame and Ffair Medi amongst them. The latter was regarded principally as a pleasure fair, and attendance as a reward for finishing the harvest in time. In the ordinary fairs, after we had disposed of our cattle, I used to walk along its one long street between horses on both sides, down to the Teifi — and beyond into Atpar. Father never expected to sell his cattle first thing when he entered the fair, for all knew that the buyers always went across first to Atpar to buy the Cardiganshire cattle. These had been fed with oats (llafur) all winter and would therefore increase much quicker in weight once they were turned out to the luscious fields of the Midlands.

As I said, I would walk down leisurely its crowded street, fascinated by the crowd, the stalls and, especially, the variety of foods and toys they exhibited, but the stand which fascinated me most and had most of my time was one occupied by a person who offered gold watch chains ("Alberts" in those days) for sale, making the bargain still more attractive by throwing into the paper bag, with the chain, one half-crown after another — and then offer the whole lot for two shillings or half-a-crown. While doing this he kept up a bantering patter in Welsh which kept the crowd in very good humour. He got an occasional buyer, but none of them had more than the Albert and a few coppers; it was only when nobody bid that he opened the paper and showed all the half-crowns there. I would have been had myself if I had two shillings to spend, for I was sure I could see the half-crowns going in! As part of his banter he warned us: "You watch them going out, I'll watch them going in."

I was at that age under tutelage and my world was so full of prohibitions: "You mustn't do this: you mustn't do that; it's not nice; it's not respectable; only 'raggets' do that; you he a good boy, work hard and save your money, that's the way to get on." That, as far as I could see, was to be my world for ever — it was the world Welshmen lived in, but here before my very eyes stood a Welshman who had managed to escape from this world and who so obviously did not care a rap what anybody thought of him. It must be wonderful to feel like that, and yet I thought what must his mother, his Vicar or his minister and friends think of him, getting his living in this way! If he did not use the Welsh language — the language of our Bible, Sunday School and services — there would be no problem for a small boy at all, for English people did all sorts of things and nobody minded. But for a Welshman? No, never! The reader will really believe me if I say once again that I was simply fascinated. I wished I could dare ask my mother if I could be apprenticed to Jack Cricklas, for as such he was known to all. Of course our world at the beginning of the century in an ordinary Welsh home was so circumscribed, and the areas of what was not allowable so large that I could not help having a secret admiration for such a man — a man who could do the things forbidden to me, a man who did not care a rap about those around him, could flaunt his contempt of them and of what they thought of him in this way, for he knew that ninety-five per cent of them went to church and chapel. Yes, my envy and admiration were unlimited. Looking over the years, I should not be surprised to be told that he himself attended a place of worship on Sunday and, outside the fairs, behaved as a good member of the neighbourhood he belonged to.

He knew a lot of his audience personally and how much they would like to pick up half-crowns easily, so he used to twit them with it: "but before you can do it, you must cut your small finger off" — he was minus that finger.

Jack Cricklas lived somewhere between Rhydlewis and Ffostrasol, a district that has produced many a distinguished Welshman, but nobody that was better known in his day and more unique in the profession he followed than Jack Cricklas. Before all memory of him dies out, I wish somebody would write an article about him and give us the details of his life — and explain how and why, out of the myriad ways of making a living, he should adopt this. What gave him the idea? It was all so out of character for a Cardi.

He certainly drew the crowds. Many a Welsh preacher would love to have his audience, and had Jack been a preacher, he would have had a cofiant by now. Surely, if only for the sake of variety in our literature, a character like Jack should find a place in it.

This was the result of one day at Newcastle Emlyn, but there is much — very much — yet to be told. The town badly needs its historian. I know Canon Gryffudd Evans, its one-time Vicar, has given us the historic events in which the town and its castle figured, but it requires a more modern approach, such as has been adopted in writing the story of some of the towns of the Vale of Glamorgan: a more intimate story of its inhabitants — their daily life, their work, their food, their interests, and sports. The story of the business houses, the inns and the hotels, the church, the chapels, the old Grammar school, its market, its fairs — who were the principal buyers, to what part of England were the cattle sent and a hundred and one different matters, some of which ought to be undertaken without delay before the older generation who remember other days and ways vanish from the scene. This sort of undertaking, where the historian concentrates on one town or region, has become popular of late and has many obvious advantages over one where the net is more widely cast, such as in the history of a country or the history of a particular age. Newcastle Emlyn with the district around is just the ideal area for such an undertaking, and is loudly calling for its historian.

Random Recollections
In the third volume of The Carmarthenshire Historian we were enjoined to record items of interest before they are irretrievably lost. This encourages me to set down the following random thoughts and recollections as an appendix to this article.

Stone Hedges
I have always admired the stone walls (cloddiau cerrig) or hedges — for they often have quick growing on them — from Henllan Bridge down to Newcastle Emlyn, and beyond. It would be interesting to know when they were built and who the craftsmen were who built them. Where they have been cared for, stretches of them are still in very good condition. They arc probably a good hundred years old and are built of blue stone which I have always associated with the Cilgerran quarries. Up to the turn of the century a large proportion of the grave-stones in the local churchyards were quarried there and are still as clean and bright and decipherable as the day they were put up. It is a pity foreign stones were ever introduced to this area. But to return to the hedges. This blue stone splits readily and it is easy to get plenty of the right width, which should not be much more than an inch. In this type of hedge, the stones are set on end — not laid flat on as in other wall-building. It facilitates the introduction of patterns, the most popular of which is the herring-bone. Sometimes a line of regular uprights separates the herring-bone patterns. They were not built plumb—straight up from the bottom — but curved in slightly, like the back of a scythe — according to the old masters. The last foot consisted of clods and soil to take the quick usually planted on top of them. Some good specimens — and there are still some good ones — ought to be preserved, to remind us of a decayed art and a vanished skill, and indeed to give us a lot of pleasure still.

Rye Crops
Which was the last farm in Carmarthenshirc to grow a field of rye? Small quantities continued to be grown here and there after it had been generally abandoned as a farm crop, because it was supposed to be good for constipation in cattle. According to my father, Brale farm near Pentre Cwrt, was the last he knew of, as he once (that would be in the middle nineties) had occasion to go there to get some for the above purpose. The bread made from it, he said, was rather dark, its straw clean and long and in great demand by saddlers.

Scythers' Verse
One who, like me, remembered the scything days on Welsh farms gave me the following verse which was often recited by men as they worked. It had evidently been composed by one who had himself drawn the sythe.

Mae ambell dwmpath morgrug, Ac ambell bridd y wadd, Ac ambell gydyn garw Yn anodd iawn ei ladd. Rhaid Cael bloneg moch Cydweli, A swnd o Landyfan; A hogi'n amal amal, I ladd y gwair yn Ian. "Roeddynt fel hyn yn prydyddu wrth fynd ymlaen."

Lampeter College
In the sixties and seventies of the last century families with sons at St. David's College used to take up to them a fresh supply of provisions once a fortnight. Two, whose names were given to me, did so regularly in their trap and pony: Mali'r Graig, a gwraig Gaer-wen isaf (Mrs. Davies). Both had two sons there.

Cautious Passengers
The daughters of the first station-master at Llanpumpsaint told me some few years ago that their father had the utmost difficulty to persuade people to make a train journey when the railway first came there. Farmers' wives preferred to carry heavy baskets of farm produce all the way to Carmarthen rather than trust their lives to this strange means of transport. It was only by bribing the bravest of them with free tickets that he got one or two to venture on it at all. When the others discovered that they had come to no danger, they, one by one, began to overcome their fears.

Early Fairs
My uncles from Gellidywyll farm, by Cenarth, when taking horses to be sold at Carmarthen fairs, started at 10 o'clock at night in order to be sure of a stable, and plenty of time to give their charges a good feed and a good brush-down, themselves lying down on the straw to snatch a few winks if time allowed, for they had to be out on the street at 6 o'clock in the morning.

Curious Practice
Except when writing to our parents, we children never wrote letters in Welsh at all. Even to this day I write to my sister in English though we never speak anything but Welsh when we meet. But a change has taken place, and now the younger generation correspond in Welsh and a delightful, racy, idiomatic Welsh it is too, written by young people confident of their mastery in that medium. We belonged to an older Wales where even great Welsh scholars like Sir John Rhys, T. C. Edwards and many more conducted most, if not all, of their correspondence in English. I was told that the same applied in Ireland, where those who still used the native language in their daily speech yet corresponded in English. I wish I knew how this had come about; of course, we were never taught to write — or even to read — our language at all, except in Sunday School. Possibly some lack of confidence in its use was thus inevitable.

Bygone Taverns
Groesffordd is a well-known road junction where the A484 from Carmarthen to Cardigan divides, sending a branch down to Llandyssul. Father remembers it when it was a public house, kept by a widow. She kept, so he told me, prominently hanging by the door a policeman's helmet, obviously to impress strangers, for all the neighbourhood knew that no policeman lived there.

Mention of the Groesffordd as a public house reminds me of what my father told me of Rhydfach, below Llangeler church, which was then a public house and where he was a farm servant — that was back in the days before the passing of the Sunday Closing Act. I asked him what use was made of it on Sunday: hardly any, he said, an occasional farmer would turn in in the evening for a pint and a chat. As that era seems so distant from us today, I thought the above would be of interest if only to dispel the illusion some people have that before the passing of the act Wales was a country whose Sundays were marked by abandoned, riotous drinking and revelry. Its passing probably brought no noticeable change in the life of the countryside.

Early Silage
When was the making of silage first introduced to Carmarthenshire? Was it at Penrallt in my native parish of Llangeler? Arthur Howell Jones, J.P., of Plas Berallt (Penrallt Fadog) with whom my father was in service, had learnt farming in Scotland which at that time afforded agricultural education and training far in advance of anything that could be got in England. And so it happened one day during the first World War that a few farmers were discussing the revolutionary method of preserving fodder — and beating the weather — that father shocked them all by saying, "Why, we used to make silage at Penrallt thirty years ago, and more." That would be in the Eighties. It was, of course, in its early and experimental stages, and if I remember rightly, they made it in a quarry.

Hated Cattle
Again for farmers; what was the origin of the objection the countryside had to white cattle with black noses? It was not to white cattle as such but to white cattle with black noses. Without any warrant for the notion implied in the question, I will still ask it: Were they thus marked out as a primitive race of cattle that farmers had learnt to shun as being incapable of the usual improvement made by other breeds? At any rate they were hated like the plague - buwch wen a thrwyn du!

Still There
It is wonderful to reflect that if Giraldus Cambrensis returned after eight hundred years, he would still find at Cenarth, the church, the mill, the bridge, the coracle, the salmon leap, and the Cymric language on the lips of its people. The only thing he would miss would he the Orchard. I remember mentioning this to my uncle, David Jones, of Pengraig Farm, later of White Hart Inn. "No," he said, "the Berllan is still there." It is now a farm, but evidently a link with the orchard of Giraldus' time, and possibly on the spot where the house, to which it belonged, then stood.

We deeply regret the death, during 1967, of two distinguished men who, despite all the heavy demands upon their services, found time to interest themselves in the activities of the Local History Committee of the Carmarthenshire Community Council.

Sir Frederick Rees, one time principal of University College, Cardiff, died early in the year at an advanced age. A valuable contribution towards the encouragement of interest in the Committee's work was his inaugural lecture on The Appeal of Local History in Carmarthenshire. It was later printed and published and will remain an enduring memorial to his association with the Local History Committee.

Within a few months came the death of the Lord Lieutenant of Carmarthenshire, Sir Grismond Philipps, Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for Wales. During the many years he was President of the Carmarthenshire Community Council, he had an abiding interest in the activities of the Local History Committee and was ever ready to comply with requests for advice and help.
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