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A Victorian Childhood in Carmarthenshire

County Record Office, Carmarthen

GEORGE GILBERT TREHERNE TREHERNE, whose childhood re-collections are printed below, was the youngest son of Rees Goring Thomas, Llannon, Carmarthenshire and Tooting Lodge in the county of Surrey. Treherne is remembered as an ardent and scholarly antiquary. He was born 30 December 1837 at Tooting Lodge, and spent much of his later life in Carmarthenshire. He was educated at Eton, and in January 1857 entered Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1861. He rowed for the University in the 1859 boat race and was also a very competent organist and musician.

After leaving Oxford he changed his name from Goring Thomas to Treherne. He was admitted a solicitor in 1865, and later became principal of his firm. A great deal of his work was connected with large estates in south west Wales, and in this way he became interested in the history and antiquities of the region. He was regarded as an authority on the Laugharne and Eglwys Gymyn area. Treherne recorded local history and published books such as Eglwys Cymmin, The Story of an Old Welsh Church (1918) and Eglwys Cymmin Epitaphs (1920).

As a member of the Cambrian Archaeological Association he published numerous papers in Archaeologia Cambrensis. He was one of the founder-members of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society in 1905, was its first president, and contributed many articles to its Transactions. Through his interest the famous Avitoria Filia Cunigni Latin-Ogam stone was preserved. Treherne communicated with outstanding contemporary scholars like Sir John Rhys; he placed on the walls of Eglwys Gymyn Church in June 1909 a tablet to commemorate Peter Williams, the annotator and publisher of the Welsh Bible, who had served his first curacy in that church in the year 1744. Treherne was later given a framed appreciation on account of the Peter Williams memorial by no less than fourteen descendants of Peter Williams including C. A. H. Green, sometime Archbishop of Wales.

Treherne died on 26 February 1923 in his home at Ringmer, Sussex.

The following extract, which gives a personal picture of Carmarthenshire life in the middle decades of the last century, is taken from Treherne's "Autobiography" in type-written form, deposited as part of the Museum Collection at the Carmarthen Record Office, CRO (M) 296. It constitutes the first chapter, which deals with his childhood; other chapters relate to his life at Eton and other periods in his early life.


Chapter I: Childhood
I was born at midnight 30th December, 1837, at Tooting Lodge, Co. Surrey; my father, Rees Goring Thomas second of the name was lord of the Manor of Tooting Graveney, and Tooting Lodge was the Manor House. The Common was separated from that of Tooting Beck by an avenue of fine elm trees, said to have been planted by Huguenot immigrants. I was baptised in the parish Church, in the rebuilding of which my father had taken a large share.

The Manor was bought by my grandfather in 1811, and in 1861 my father sold it to W. J. Thompson.

When I was four years of age my father moved to Wales, and took up his abode at Llannon, four miles north of Llanelly, Co. Carmarthen, where his paternal estates were situated, and where he began to build a mansion on his farm, Gellywernen, which was never completed and still remains a picturesque ruin.

It was perhaps typical of the age that my father should have manifested his zeal for the welfare of Mother Church by taking a large part in the rebuilding of two parish churches, one at Tooting Graveney and the other at Llannon, and curiously enough, the result in each case was that a modern church of so called Carpenter's Gothic was substituted for the original mediaeval structure. In the case of Llannon the old western tower was preserved, and stands to this day in marked contrast to the modern nave and chancel. At Llannon the church services in the late forties and early fifties were always duoglot, partly Welsh, partly English, a custom, which I believe, is still maintained. It was then customary to keep a black hood or tippet in the Vestry for the use of any strange visiting parson, a not unusual custom in Welsh churches in the XVIII century.1 The clergyman used to preach in a white surplice, thus anticipating the present day usage in English churches, and to hold an early Communion Service, known as the Plygain (Welsh for cock crow) so called from being held at break of dawn.

We remained at Llannon a few years and then moved to Llys Newydd, a mansion on the banks of the Teivi, near Henllan Bridge, built by Nash, belonging to Colonel Lewes then living at Velindre in the immediate neighbourhood. There was a famous salmon leap just above the bridge and an old fisherman, Sam Ffrydiau, had a picturesque cottage on the right side of the river, half a mile or so above the bridge, where we children used to go and take a homely and welcome tea with old Sam and his wife, and listen to his tales of his exploits on the river. He was the first to initiate me in the mysteries of navigating a coracle.

There was a large pool above the fall, which to me had the dignity and charm of the Swiss or Italian lakes, and the other day I came across letters from me (then at Eton) to my eldest brother as to having a punt built at Eton for the purposes of navigating this inland sea. The punt had what I suppose was the usual equipment of a fishing punt in those days, a fixed box or seat across the boat amidships, lined with pitch, to make it water-tight, and bored with holes so as to let the water pass to and fro, and in this we kept our catch alive and kicking.

I was living at Llys Newydd when the Rebecca riots broke out, and for the first time, I believe, since the Parliamentary War, English troops made their appearance in South-West Wales. A troop of the 4th Light Dragoons under the command of a Captain Low was quartered in our house, the basement windows of which were "lunette"-shaped, opening on to the lawn, and scaffolding was put up inside on which the troops could stand to use their carbines. Capt. Low used to give me a mount on his fur-covered saddle, a proceeding which filled me with intense joy and pride, and remains to this day a very vivid recollection.

Near us was the mansion Dolhaidd (Barley field) then in the occupation of a Capt. Lloyd, who made himself very unpopular with the Rebeccas, through administering stern justice to them, with the result that a bilingual proclamation was posted on the turnpike gates near Dolhaidd setting out Capt. Lloyd's sins and giving notice that unless he recanted (how I know not) before a certain day his home would be burnt. As a matter of fact parts of his premises were burnt, and his old coachman frightened out of his wits.

I remember driving home one night beside our coachman, Evan by name, when as we passed the Dolhaidd gates a body of Rebeccas, in their women's dress and tall hats, sprang across the road, stopped the carriage and demanded whose it was. On being told that it was Mr. Goring Thomas's they respectfully drew on one side and allowed the carriage to pass. My father (who was J.P. for the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan, D.L. and also High Sheriff for Carmarthen in 1830) sympathised with the Reheccas and dealt leniently with them. Llys Newydd had a flat roof, and I remember one evening our all going on to it to witness an attack by the Rebeccas on Pentre Cagal, a turnpike on the road to Carmarthen. This was the only occasion, to the best of my recollection, when anyone was killed in these attacks, the turnpike keeper was shot, and his house burnt. A farm house at Gellywann, near Llannon, was attacked, in consequence of a grudge borne by the Reheccas against my father's bailiff (an Englishman) who lived there. The bailiff was ill in bed at the time and his daughter came pluckily to the front door and persuaded the rioters, on the score of her father's ill health, to retire, but before doing so they fired at his window, and I remember very well seeing the marks of the bullets on the ceiling.

Bronwydd, the seat of the Lloyds, was on the other side of the river Teifi to Llys Newydd, and the drive to it was through a picturesque wooded valley. In a churchyard on the right bank near the end of Henllan bridge was the grave of a resident who had been killed in a duel fought in a neighbouring meadow. As I knew and had received many kindnesses from his antagonist, the tragedy made a great impression on me, and I never passed the churchyard without a shudder.

Bronwydd was then in the occupation of the present baronet's grandfather, who started the Bronwydd hand which performed at local gatherings, he playing the clarionet. His widow lived to a great age and remained in the old house for some years after her husband's death; subsequently she took up her quarters at Kilrhue (Brae nuik) near Cardigan. The driver of the coach which then plied between Narberth Road and Cardigan, passing Kilrhue, told me that Mrs. Lloyd was the most wonderful woman in Wales and "I do think she will live for ever". Mrs. Lloyd was Miss Thomas of Llettymawr near Llannon, and her father was my father's great uncle.

I remember the present house being built by her son, Thomas Lloyd, who was made a baronet the Architect was Kirk Penson.

The Rev. John Jones, Rector of Nevern co. Pembroke, where he lies buried, was well known as a writer of local verse under his bardic name Tegid. He was a frequent visitor at Llys Newydd and on one occasion he arrived very late in much disorder and his head bound up in brown paper soaked in vinegar; his injuries were the result of an accident in Llangeler Mountains, but to my young mind the brown paper not unnaturally appeared to be a bardic distinction.

From Llys Newydd I was sent to school at Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, a school kept by a Mr. Seagar and supposed to be one of the best private schools in England. It took four days to get to Stevenage, the first day we drove 16 miles over Llangeler Mountain to Carmarthen, sleeping the night at the Ivy Bush Hotel, and leaving next day by the Gloucester Mail which was timed to travel 10 miles an hour, including stoppages and 20 mins. for lunch at Brecon. The distance from Carmarthen to Gloucester was 112 miles, the coach always arriving at Gloucester in the dark; the coachman, Jack Andrews, used to say he could drive better in the dark than in the day-light. At Gloucester we slept at the Bell, and next day took the G.W.R. to Paddington. The old broad gauge was then in use and the 1st Class compartments were divided into two, each division being partitioned off into four seats. The luggage was carried on the top of the carriage and placed on the arrival platform in alphabetical sections corresponding with the initial letter of the surname which was always inscribed on the luggage label. A story was told of a Bishop of Llandaff who having ordered a porter at Paddington to look after his luggage, was asked for his initial "L" said the Bishop, whereupon the porter exclaimed "Oh! We shall find it in Hell. We must go to look for it". In London we slept at Usher's Hotel, Suffolk Place, and next day drove by the Great North Road Mail coach to Stevenage, a few miles to the north of Hitchen. While I was at school the G.N.R. was in progress, but had not been finished when I left in 1850 to go to Eton.

When the G.W.R. made its appearance in South-West Wales, it was called the South Wales Railway. Its chief promoter was Mr. Talbot of Margam Abbey, who, if I recollect aright, was chairman of the Company. He was a prominent member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and kept his steam yacht "Capricorn" at Port Talbot.

When the line was opened to Carmarthen a coach finished the journey to Cardigan via Llangeler Mountain and Newcastle Emlyn

There was an alternative route by coach from Narberth Road. The engineer, Brunel, suggested that the line to Milford Haven should be carried across the Towy estuary at Ferry Side, to avoid the triangle at the apex of which Carmarthen stands. He also suggested the line be carried inland between Ferry Side and Kidwelly so as to avoid a dangerous corner, where it was, and still is, exposed to much stress of weather. Another of his suggestions was that Fishguard rather than Milford Haven should be the terminus, a suggestion which was prophetic. The subsequent adoption of the Fishguard rout necessitated the repurchase of the land, forming that portion of the route designed by Brunel.

We left Llys Newydd in or about 1847 and went to live at Iscoed, a red-brick mansion near Ferryside in a very picturesque situation commanding a fine view of the Towy estuary, Llanstephan Castle being a prominent feature of the landscape. Iscoed belonged to the Picton family, the owner at that time being the Rev. Edward Picton, a nephew of the famous general who fought at Waterloo and whose bust had a prominent position in the front hall.

The late Sir John Hamilton, Bart. lived in the Plas near Llanstephan Castle, and I remember his suggesting to my father that they lived in a state of "telescopic sociability".

At that time General Sir Josiah Clocte was quartered at Carmarthen in command of the English troops in Wales; and the Rev. John Bellairs, incumbent of a Warwickshire parish, was in the habit of spending his summer holidays at Ferryside; he suggested to my father that he should ask him to dinner to meet Sir J. Clocte but should not introduce him to the General. Mr. Bellairs, who, if I remember aright had served at Trafalgar, after leaving the Navy, joined the 4th Light Dragoons, and thus was a brother officer of General Clocte's and had fought with him at Waterloo. Mr. Bellairs used to wear the two medals, naval and military, on his surplice. I shall never forget the meeting of the two men in my father's house. On coming into the drawing-room the General was greeted in a very hearty and familiar way by the parson, whose effusive advances were received by the General with a very decided coolness. My father was on the point of intervening when Mr. Bellairs disclosed his identity, and the two old friends fell rapturously on each other's neck.

Connop Thirlwall, who was bishop of St. Davids at that time, used often to stay at Iscoed. He always asked for a bedroom on the windy side of the house so that he might hold communion with the elements. He had a singularly donnish bearing and a deep voice, and inspired his clergy with great reverence if not with awe. Under his rugged exterior he had a very kind heart and a great love for children. He was never married. I remember very well going with my Welsh nurse (with whom I always spoke Welsh) to stay with him at Abergwilly Palace, when he used to take me by the hand of a morning and lead me round the garden to feed the swans (?white geese), on the lake. A genial sister-in-law of mine sitting next the Bishop at dinner, told his lordship by way of making conversation, that she had lately met Tennyson who did not look at all like a poet, whereupon the Bishop in his most sonorous tones said: "Pray, Madam, tell me what you think a poet should look like".

Treherne.thumb.jpg Thirlwall was a great linguist and easily mastered the grammatical details of the Welsh language, in which he preached, but with so foreign an accent that his sermons were not understood by his hearers. The double "1" was his chief difficulty, and on asking one of his clergy how this should be pronounced, received the following answer "If your lordship will put the tip of your episcopal tongue to the roof of your episcopal mouth and hiss like a goose you shall have it".

The Bishop used to tell this story with much enjoyment, the clergy-man in question was "Tegid" (referred to above) with whom he was very intimate.

I remember Temple, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, staying at Iscoed when he was Inspector of Schools, and my being told off to take him for walks in the neighbourhood. He used to stride along in most vigourous fashion and kept me more or less on the jog-trot, he talked the whole time and the steepest hill did not abate his vocal force. He was said to be able to walk conveniently at the rate of six miles an hour.

When living at Iscoed my mother, although an English woman insisted on all the maid-servants, with the exception of imported English maids, in and about the house wearing the native dress of Welsh flannel; the result was very favourable to the appearance of the Welsh. In wet weather and for farm work wooden clogs were universal, and for dirty outdoor work about the premises "pattens" were the popular footwear. These consisted of an iron circle with two iron uprights, two or three inches high, which supported a wooden sole, and the maids soon acquired great skill in the use of their pattens.

The peasantry and farmers always used their own home-made materials, flannel made from the wool of their own sheep which they used to take to the local "tucking" mill. The flannel was dyed chiefly in indigo blue with a madder-red line through it; it was of very durable character, and had a strong pungent smell. On fair and market days a brisk trade was driven in these native flannels, the best kind of which was known by the name of "minko".

In those days each county had its distinctive dress for the peasant women and it was quite easy to distinguish the inhabitants of one county from another; Pembrokeshire, or "Little England beyond Wales" was the only exception.

Fire balls made of an equal admixture of clay and culm (small coal) were of universal use in farm houses; these were kneaded by girls with their bare feet. The ball fires were never allowed to go out, and gave out a strong steady heat.

Farm servants had their meals together at a long table in the kitchen; the popular dish was a broth called "cawl", of which leeks and bacon were the principal ingredients. Skim milk cheese, hard and satisfying; with "bara plank" (plank bread) round and about two inches thick, which was baked on iron plates, and eaten with fresh or strongly salted butter, was a staple food, varied, by way of special delicacy, with "bara ceirch" (oatmeal cakes) baked very thin and crisp.

The farmers had a sort of light wooden cradle attached to their scythes, especially when reaping in wet weather, which resulted in the wheat lying in swathes. They threshed their corn with a flail, formed by two pieces of wood attached to each other by a leathern strap, and the strokes of which made pleasant music in the autumn days. A large upright stone pillar was generally to be found in pasture fields; such stones were usually placed in position for cattle to rub themselves against and are often mistaken for the more ancient and more massive boulders called meini hirion (long stones).

The peasantry were very superstitious; amateur women-doctors or "wise women" as they were generally called were much in repute, especially in treatment for the ailments of cows and other animals. There were two wise women of local repute at Marros Village, near Pendine. I noticed a few years ago lying on the village green at Marros, a slab of mountain limestone about three feet in its greatest length and two in greatest width, and about five inches thick, with a circular saucer-shaped hole three or four inches in diameter on its flat surface, and was told by a neighbouring cottager, grand-daughter of one of the aforesaid wise women, that her grandmother had been in the habit of rubbing her simples in the saucer, which she did with a smooth stone (or muller) of suitable size, an interesting instance of the survival of a primitive custom, handed down through the ages.

Itinerant furniture makers used to go round to the farmhouses, where they were given board and lodging, to work up the timber, cut and seasoned on the farm, into furniture, beds, tables, chairs, kitchen dressers, etc. Especially noteworthy were the excellent roomy bureaux which were strongly made, with well proportioned mouldings and fretwork of conventional pattern, and a simple inlay of native woods such as box and yew. The upper part consisted of a cupboard with shelves and a door, the middle part of a moveable writing slab and drawers for stationery, etc., and invariably one or more secret drawers for cash; the lower part had two or three spacious drawers. I had one given to me many years ago by a farmer who was leaving his farm. Welsh farmhouse furniture was distinguished by the excellency of its brass handles, escutcheons, etc.

The Towy estuary at Ferryside was famous for its cockles, and the beach at low water was thickly populated by a race of sturdy women, who lived in a village on the hill, called Llansaint, they were I believe a harmless hardworking class, but as a child I used to regard them with feelings of respectful awe.

The sandbanks which lay along the Pendine shore were very productive of wrecks, and "wreckage" was a prominent detail in the Royal Grant of the Lordship of Laugharne, of which I acted for many years as agent for my brother-in-law, Mr. Morgan Jones, of Llanmiloe. I was supposed to claim on behalf of the lord a certain toll of the wrecks, but this produced rather less than more of a revenue; the value of the grant probably consisted in the ownership of the fore-shore. During my stewardship the control of, and dealing with, the wreckage passed into the hands of Government officials, who accounted to the lord for a certain per centage of whatever profits were left over and above the expenses of the transaction.

Pendine used to have a very unsavory reputation for profiting by these wrecks, and I have often been shewn in old houses near the coast secret chambers so called because concealed from casual observation which were said to have been used for the purpose of illicit storage. The ruined farmhouse of Cnaps, atop of Pendine cliff was favoured with divers sensational tales of smuggler's exploits. It was said to have been connected with the beach by submarine passages, and the extensive caves, naturally incident to the limestone cliffs, lent colour to the tradition.

On one occasion a ship laden with sherry was wrecked on the Pendine sands, with the result that sherry became the staple drink in the neighbourhood for some time afterwards. I remember one evening accompanying my father, then staying at Llanmiloe, whose magisterial zeal had suggested to him a personal investigation of the reported traffic in sherry between the vessel and the neighbouring houses. A local bailiff with his lantern guided us across the burrows. While picking our difficult way with the aid of our "lantern dimly burning", we heard the sound of a cart bumping its way in the immediate neighbourhood. My father instantly became on the alert, but at that precise moment strange to say the bailiff caught his foot in a convenient rabbit hole, and falling prone extinguished the lantern. We had perforce to retrace our steps as best we could from our profitless enterprise.

Connected with the sherry wreck a story was told of an old woman found lying on her back on the sands as the evening tide was creeping up. When the slowly lapping water reached her lips she put up her hand to her mouth in a gesture of refusal, stammering: "Not any more, thank you". She had evidently been sampling the contents of a sherry cask.
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