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Before It's Forgotten

RichardSteel.jpg He Saw Steele Resurrected
Dick Steele died in Carmarthen, the town of his Welsh wife's family, in 1729. I was eager to see the spot, in the foothills of Bryn Merthyn. To my surprise the approach put me at once in mind of old Toledo, in Spain; nearing Toledo, one crosses an ancient stone bridge and winds up a long, bleak hill to the Alcazar. So before Carmarthen the task was to get over the Towy, like Cromwell, then to toil up a serpentine road to Castle Green. I put up at the Ivy Bush Inn, off King Street, a street of dips and bends in one of whose houses Steele had died. Inquiring, as always, who the local antiquary might be, I was told to see Mr. Walter Spurrell.

Spurrell must have been nearly eighty,1 a spare man, silver-haired, and with kindly blue eyes, very steady. He received me in a little front room of his house, and when he had heard me out, he quietly said, "I have seen Steele."

I am sure it diverted my host to see me overbalance and nearly fall off my chair.

"Yes," he continued. "It was in 1876. They were repairing the chancel of St. Peter's, where he is buried, and they had to lift his coffin out. I was there."

Unable to repress a juvenile though legitimate curiosity about this, I asked in what condition they had found the coffin.

"Rotten like a pear," said Spurrell, "and caved in." "And Steele himself ?"

"He had a black wig on, with its 'pig-tail' tied by a silk ribbon, about an inch wide, and turned dark brown. He had only a half-dozen teeth left. A little of his own grey hair still showed on his temples. It was a very round skull."

"Then they reburied him in the same place ?"

"Not straight away. The repairs went on for several days. I think the verger was afraid somebody might come prowling about for souvenirs, and he took Steele's skull, put it on a table in the sacristy, and covered it with a cloth. While the repairs were being completed, the whole town heard what had been uncovered. People came in to see. That verger had a sense of the dramatic. He admitted into the sacristy a few persons at a time. Then he lifted the cloth, like a magican, with the words, 'You are now going to see the G-r-e-a-t Sir Richard Steele!' "

John o' London's Weekly.
2nd April, 1954.

Carmarthenshire's First Movie
The cinema began as a fairground entertainment staged by enterprising showmen. One of the earliest pioneers in Britain was William Haggar . . . who was inspired by stories of the American Bioscope. His first performance was almost a disaster; he bent so closely over the projector that his breath steamed the lenses up and nothing appeared on the screen...

Haggar . . . persevered . . . but enjoyed only modest success on tour around the Welsh border towns, and the situation was made worse by the Welsh coal strike, which robbed the fairgrounds of most of their customers. In desperation, Haggar took his show to Chepstow and Lydney, where business was so bad that he had to sell two caravans.

Then Haggar made his first film a train arriving at Burry Port station. Encouraged by its success, the family acted out plays for Haggar to film. Then he persuaded his son Will, who had his own company at Maesteg, to act out the local love story The Maid of Cefn Ydfa for him to film .... It made his fortune and remained a box office hit for many years. The family made some 600 films between 1901 and 1908.2

The Sunday Times Magazine.
20th September, 1970.
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