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The Carmarthenshire Historian


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To stand in the silent hall of a deserted country mansion and there contemplate the processes of ruin and decay that follow the flight of the last unwilling tenant is to endure a sad experience of our time and one need not regret the social revolution of the past generation to lament the dilapidation of those fine old houses and their parks that once graced the countryside.

Unpeopled, these amiable dwellings succumb to erosion with astonishing speed. The rain that fathers the verdant landscape is here the great destroyer, aided as often as not by the lead thieves who, for furtive gain, mock an ancient pride, fashioned with the materials of the builder's craft. The thief and the weather do their worst; lead is stripped, slates are dislodged and water, the insidious enemy, forces a triumphant but destructive entry.

Soon the clock-like drip is a cascade, gleefully wreaking its lacerating purpose; rotting timbers collapse and the once grand staircase is a grisly heap of grotesque detritus, in which finely turned balusters are a house's broken bones. Fungus presides where old men took their wine, where women gossiped gracefully and children toiled in play. Silent are the pleasant and the angry voices; departed are the merry and the surly tenants; and home is a skull with many eyeless sockets that once were windows on a squire's little world.

Of such a house and its people Mr. D. L. Baker-Jones writes in his contribution on Edwinsford. Dead the house may now be, but its history lives and the letters of its inhabitants still survive to interest us a half a dozen generations later. Who will suppress a smile at Lady Diana's early nineteenth century complaint about the tuck-box pilfered in transit to London? Who will withhold admiration for her command to have it weighed and marked in future?

But change is mindful of no social class, no domain or industry; it touches all with a chastening cautery that dispenses pain and new health. Thus the Rt. Hon. James Griffiths is saddened by the closure of the old mines for ever, to reflect that the present reality has not matched the dream of a life-time past; the mines have been nationalised only to compete with inevitable change, forced by the challenge of oil, natural gas and nuclear energy. But gone, too, along with the country mansion, is the miner's cottage, no less amiable and doubtless a great deal cosier; domestic affluence, complete with fitted carpets, has come to the masses.

That language, too, is susceptible to change is confirmed by Joseph Gulston's eighteenth century notebooks, which Wales Herald presents for our entertainment and wherein we are told that the sister-in-law of John Dyer, the poet, was 'very flighty'. Two centuries have manifestly modified the connotation evoked by this familiar phrase; nowadays the popular mind at once imagines a flirt, whereas Gulston's context indicates that this most beautiful woman was somewhat feeble-minded, surely by now an archaic meaning, although the dictionary still allows it. But when did flighty people cease to be crazy half-wits and for how long have they been merely flirtatious?

And yet withal, there are assuredly things that change not and among them must be the innate truancy of schoolboys ever since school was invented. A hundred years ago, the Rev. Noel Gibbard reports, a Llanelli schoolmaster logged a 'very small school this afternoon, Tom Thumb in town'. Truly it was and shall be ever thus.
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