Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Tredegar House Christmas: Arrival of guests

It is the prerogative of every 'Lord Tredegar' at Christmas at Tredegar House to choose the name of his butler. As butler this year I was in charge of chocolates (a grave responsibility) and of introducing visitors to Lord and Lady Tredegar in the Dining Room. For the first couple of nights Lord Tredegar was played by Alan Hall (tour guide of some distinction), who decided that in keeping with the Dickensian spirit pervading the House, that I was to be called 'Tulkinghorn'. Sadly, and probably because of the immense stress placed on members of the aristocracy at this time of year, the endless handshaking proved to be too much for His Lordship's constitution, and he was forced to retire from the post. Tenants on the estate wept, but, as ever, life at Tredegar had to continue.

Life continued, and Lady Tredegar acquired her second husband within a week, when Michael stepped into the role. Here we see him looking distracted; he can hardly be blamed, with Fagin and the Artful Dodger given free reign of his ancestral home, it was a trying time for His Lordship. How many spoons bearing the Morgan family crest made it into the pockets of these Victorian ne'er do wells, only the House Steward, after much consultation with the Housekeeper, could be sure.

The new Lord Tredegar decided to rename his butler 'Rutting'; a name that has given him great amusement ever since he first encountered it in the Middle East some years ago. Although 'Rutting the Butler' sounds more like an old English custom than a name, I assumed the title with grave dignity. A butler should always set an example to others Below Stairs, in both appearance and manners. When talking he must be polite and deferential; when walking he should be, as PG Wodehouse put it "a stately procession of one."

Unfortunately, I also had to help carry the prams and pushchairs from the Side Hall down into the Housekeeper's Room for collection. It is hard to be taken seriously when you are pushing a pink, double-seater pushchair (complete with fluffy toy poking out of the seat) through a crowded house of merry makers. I craved the sanctuary of the Butler's Pantry!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tredegar House on TV

The Flog It! episode featuring Tredegar House will be shown on Thursday 22nd December on BBC 2 at 6.00pm

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Morgan ap Llewelyn (c1334-c1384) (4)

Morgan ap Llewelyn was Ifor Hael's elder brother. Of course he was much more than that, but he has inevitably been overshadowed by little brother Ifor of Gwern y Cleppa. Perhaps if Morgan had, in a quiet moment at Tredegar, leant back in his comfortable chair (the one with the fewest splinters) and contemplated granting employment to that talented young bard Dafydd ap Gwilym, of whom he had heard so much, then things could well have been different. Welsh literature may well have remembered the generosity and grace of Morgan Hael of Tredegar, leaving the name of Ifor to interest only geneaologists whose pulses race when encountering, among dusty archives, details of an obscure younger son from centuries past. It did not turn out that way.

It is not difficult to imagine Ifor Hael as a jolly, old gentleman, surrounded by bards, dispensing patronage and favour like a local monarch at court. This would seem to be an erroneous impression. Ifor did not even reach middle age. In 1361 when aged only about 25 or 26 he travelled ( along with his wife, Nest) to Bishton Castle, the home of Bishop John Pascal. They did not return home. Ifor and Nest contracted the plague and both died from it. The Bishop promptly did the same. If this be true, then the story of Dafydd ap Gwilym falling in love with Ifor's daughter is false. Indeed, there is doubt over whether Ifor had a daughter at all!

On his death Ifor left a young son, Thomas, who, according to some sources, was taken in by his uncle Morgan ap Llewelyn of Tredegar. Their names both appear as witnesses to a deed in 1375, and, as Thomas Wakeman points out, it is reasonable to assume that Thomas was brought up at Tredegar under the guardianship of his uncle. It must have been quite a crowded house at this time, as Morgan and his wife had at least nine children.

Morgan probably died around the year 1384, in his early 50's. He had consolidated the family dynasty, but his heir was rather more rash...

Born: c1334
Died: c1384
Married: Maud Verch Rhys
On Throne when at Tredegar: Edward III, Richard II,


Llewelyn ap Morgan (c1366)
Philip ap Morgan (c1368)
John ap Morgan (c1370)
Christie Verch Morgan (c1372)
Ann (c1374)
Margaret (c1376)
Unknown daughter (c1378) (how cold and heartless that sounds!)
Eleanor (c1380)
and Guardian to Thomas ap Ifor

According to a 1612 pedigree examined by John Weston of the data-wales website, Morgan ap Llewelyn was responsible for 'Morgan' becoming a fixed surname. Others have attributed the 'surname decision' to Sir John ap Morgan, who died in c1492.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Halloween (2)

Just when things couldn't get any worse..........


Baron Frankenstein's evening takes a turn for the worse, as a worried Dr Jekyll looks on!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Halloween: The First Night

Last night was the first of the 'Halloween evenings' at Tredegar House. I have reprised my role as Dr Jekyll. This means that I am one of the more respectably dressed characters that visitors to the House will encounter (and, believe me, they encounter some terrifying figures!). Dressed in my black cut-away coat I am sure I look the very model of Victorian elegance, as I welcome people into the Dining Room, which has been converted for the occasion into Dr Jekyll's study. By the end of the evening, however, after over three hours of doing the same thing over and over, I begin to look a bit bedraggled, the healthy shine gone from my cheeks, and my throat aching from all that coughing, spluttering and choking from drinking the 'potion'. Such is life. Mr Hyde, in his grotesque rubber mask, gets it much tougher. My job is a relatively easy one this year. I set the scene, Hyde makes 'em scream.

After re-reading 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' I have come to the surprising conclusion that I would probably be better suited to playing Hyde. My diminutive height and slight frame are much more in keeping with Stevenson's original description of the evil Hyde than that of the 'good' doctor. But since Halloween at Tredegar is basically about scaring people witless (and we certainly did that last night!), it is far better for Hyde to be more physically imposing and menacing than I could muster. Listen no more to my slightly jealous outpourings, it is just that I have come to the conclusion that at Tredegar House, at Halloween at least, bad guys DO get all the fun!

I think last night went quite well. Most people turn up to enjoy themselves; they laugh easily, scream easily, and generally do all the things you hope they will do, and a good time is had by all. Then there are those who see walking through the House as a challenge, almost an affront to their pride, they claim to have nerves of steel. These people are often teenagers, they stand surly with crossed arms, determined that nothing will make them smile, and nothing will make them scream. It is hard to make such people smile, but the satisfaction of making them jump is immense!

Dr Jekyll will be experimenting again tonight and tomorrow. I am sure the crowds will get livelier the closer we get to the night of Halloween itself.

Oh, and on a far brighter note, I hear that the Edney Gates gilding process is expected to be completed by March.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ifor ap Llewelyn: 'Ifor Hael' (3)

"It is here that nobility resides, where there is feasting and where comforts are nurtured: a fair lordship and dukedom has been established near Basaleg." So wrote Dafydd ap Gwilym, of Ifor Hael's Llys (or 'court') at Gwern y Cleppa in the 14th century.

Ifor ap Llewelyn, second son of Llewelyn ap Ifor and Angharad of Tredegar, was assured by his bard that "As long as the Welsh language continues your praise will be sung." As the Eistedfodd returned to the grounds of Tredegar House last year, it was readily apparent that Dafydd was as good as his word. The name of Ifor Hael (Ifor the Generous, as Dafydd termed him) has indeed lived on.

Dafydd ap Gwilym, like Ifor, had roots in Dyfed. There has been speculation that political problems involving his family forced the bard to move to Gwent. Some have called Dafydd the greatest of all Welsh poets, and certainly the most renowned bard of medieval Wales. It was at Gwern y Cleppa, at the court of Ifor Hael, that he enjoyed the munificent hospitality that inspired some of his greatest work. It was to prove an excellent partnership. Ifor could not have wished for a better man to sing his praises, and ultimately, to immortalise him.

The atmosphere at Gwern y Cleppa in those days can be imagined. It was described as a centre of civilised living, as being the very symbol of gentility, grace and luxury, where the spirit of chivalry mixed with the old Welsh traditions. As head of the Llys, Ifor Hael, Dafydd tells us, was the embodiment of courage, wisdom, generosity and justice. He was compared to Rhydderch Hael, one of the three generous men of the Isle of Britain. The bard certainly enjoyed his stays:

"drinking with Ifor, and shooting straight-running great stags. And casting hawks to the sky and wind, and beautiful verses, and solace in Bassaleg."

Sadly for our so far idyllic story, it was not just the free-flowing drink with Ifor, and the great stags near Gwern y Cleppa, that appealed to Dafydd; he was appointed to act as tutor to Ifor's daughter and, rather inconveniently, fell in love with her. It can be imagined how the music and gaiety suddenly stopped at Llys Ifor Hael when the great man discovered this. Greatly disapproving of such a match, Ifor sent his daughter to Anglesey, away from the romantic attentions of the silken tongued bard. Dafydd promptly followed to Angelsey, but was ultimately frustrated, not least by the fact that Ifor's daughter took the veil and became a nun. The breach with his patron was not critical however, and Dafydd returned to Gwent, and continued showering praise on Ifor. ( In later years Dafydd again fell in love controversially, and Ifor welcomed the couple to Gwern y Cleppa)

The Morgans of Tredegar were well aware of the importance of their illustrious forbear, and for many years, an avenue of trees led from Tredegar House to the old Llys at Gwern y Cleppa, which became, not so much a physical court, but more a spiritual one for the Morgans. Ifor Hael became not just a man, but an ideal to aspire to. His name was evoked many times in the history of the Morgans: Sir John ap Morgan made the halls of Tredegar ring with song with his employment of Welsh bards, as did the Elizabethan adventurer Miles Morgan; we can see strains of Ifor's princely hospitality in the socialising of Sir William Morgan in the early 18th century, and the lavish praise Ifor received found a mirror in the praise poured on Sir Charles Morgan in the 19th century ("One of the Kings of south Wales"). Ifor's name was frequently used by the Morgans in political campaigns. Who would dare to oppose a descendant of Ifor Hael in south Wales? Had the electors not read their Dafydd ap Gwilym?

Perhaps the closest the Morgans ever reached to the heady adulation and reputation enjoyed by Ifor came in the late Victorian era, when the war hero and generous public benefactor Godfrey Morgan, 1st Viscount Tredegar, was acclaimed in the area as, what else?, 'Ifor Hael the Second'.

Although Ifor's reputation remained untarnished, the old court of Gwern y Cleppa did not. The 18th century bard Evan Evans (1731-1788) who went by the name Ieuan Brydydd Hir visited it, and wrote:

"Ifor Hael's court, wretched sight, lies destroyed
Just heaps of stones in the trees
Where the thorns and brambles grow
In the place where majesty flourished"

There is very little to see now at Gwern y Cleppa, the site itself has not been built on, but, in the words of Ieuan: "The ancient paths where there was once song are now the haunts of owls."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Another Season Ends

The House is now closed for public tours and thoughts turn to the end of October. Fake cobwebs will soon be put up; real cobwebs will be left up, and preparations are underway for Halloween. What ghoulish suprises will await visitors to Tredegar this year? More to the point what situations will the staff find themselves in? My roles in the past have included Dr Jekyll, a vicar at a vampire wedding, Professor Van Helsing (complete with 'interesting' Dutch accent), Dennis Samosa (a dodgy medium, complete with rather erratic scouse accent) and the Witchfinder General (my accent for this was perfect, but nobody has been able to ascertain exactly what accent it was supposed to be. I like to leave a certain mystery about my performances, it covers up for a spectacular lack of acting talent).

In other news:

The Edney Gates gilding process continues. The gates are currently covered with blue tarpaulin to protect the work from the elements.

A 17th century themed wedding took place at Tredegar House on Saturday afternoon. Practically every guest was attired in costume from the civil war period. Most were cavaliers, but, as I was told by one man brandishing a particularly sharp looking sword and a suspicious countenance, a few parliamentarians had sneaked in, too. The bride and groom were given a guard of honour of raised swords as they left the House.

The 'History of the Morgans' series will continue tomorrow, with the third instalment: Ifor Hael.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Sound of.....Something!

What an odd atmosphere surrounded the House last Friday. I have done many Spooky Tales tours and have never really felt anything particularly strange. Psychics and Mediums tend to have a field day at Tredegar House, but, whether it is because of my naturally sceptical nature, or, because perhaps I am not sensitive to such things, I have remained oblivious to all-that-is spooky. I haven't seen, felt, or really heard anything unusual in eight years. The spirits have seen me, and are obviously not interested.

But last Friday night I definitely heard something. I have been trying to put a rational explanation on it ever since. Goff was in the middle of his tour and the whole group were in the Bells' Passage. He was explaining that the servants at Tredegar in the 1930s and 40s used to think that the ghost of Gwyneth Morgan (only daughter of Courtenay, Viscount Tredegar), who drowned in the Thames aged 29, haunted the Bachelor Staircase and upstairs. I was sat on the foot of the Bachelor Staircase as he said this, and I smiled politely as inevitably every face on the tour turned to peer inquisitively in my direction hoping to catch a glimpse of Gwyneth. Goff then moved onto 'Dragon's Breath' and why you should never build on running water, and it was at that moment that I heard it.....

I could swear that I could hear singing coming from above me. Not music. Just singing. As if somebody was cleaning upstairs and they were singing to themselves as they dusted. Now, the entire tour and the only other members of staff in the House were in the Bells' Passage. There should not have been anybody upstairs at all. It is true that there was an event at the Brewhouse that night, but I did not hear bass, or the thudding sound of music from a CD player; I heard no music at all. Just the sound of somebody singing gently to themselves.

Fortunately my girlfriend Samantha was beside me at the time and heard it as well. As did Gafyn, a friend who was on the tour. We couldn't explain it. As soon as we called other people over to listen, the singing stopped. What was it? I have tried thinking rationally about it. I know how sound sometimes travels strangely in Tredegar, so it is possible that a member of staff may have been present at another part of the House and their singing reached my ears. However, this was late at night, and all the staff that were working were present in the Bells' Passage.

It is not as exciting as some of the ghost stories of Tredegar House, but perhaps, perhaps, I have at last experienced something a little odd, after eight barren years. Maybe the spirits are warming to me, after all!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Spooky Tales

"Any ghosts here?" Is a common question that guides are asked on House tours. Every Friday night throughout September, that question is resoundingly answered by the Spooky Tales tours. Conducted by Goff Morgan, it is an exploration into the murkier side (or the "Supernatural Underbelly" as Goff puts it!) of Tredegar House and its past. Not only will visitors be informed about attempted murders, live burials, and occultism; but also about the ghostly sightings and experiences that many have reported in the House over the years.

As for me, I am a cynic in the daytime; but at night time when I am locking up (something which I will have to do after the Spooky Tales tours) I am not quite so sure....

A review of tomorrow night's tour will appear here...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Llewelyn ap Ifor and Angharad (2)

On the death of her father, Sir Morgan ap Maredudd in c1332, Angharad, his only daughter, inherited Tredegar and his other estates. An account of Angharad's great beauty has been passed down through history (she was celebrated as being the mother of Ifor Hael). As a great heiress, a marriage with her should have been seen as very desirable, it is therefore slightly surprising that, aged around 32, she was still unmarried on her father's death. It is very tempting to ponder the reasons for this. After all, as Thomas Wakeman, the Victorian antiquarian pointed out "at a time of day when young ladies of any expectations were married when about 13 or 14 it may excite our curiosity". Was her father, Morgan the Rebel, an obstacle in her path to marriage? There is no evidence either way, but speculation is always fun.

When she DID marry (c1333), it was a very advantageous match. Her husband was Llewelyn ap Ifor, lord of Sancler (St Clears) and Gwynfe, in Carmarthenshire. He was a descendant of Cadifor Fawr, lord of Cilsant, who lived in Dyfed, and died in 1089. Cadifor Fawr's third son, Bledri, received land from the Normans in Gwent. Thus, two ancient Welsh families, with links back to Hywel Dda, and the Welsh princes, were joined. It is likely that Llewelyn moved to Tredegar and it was from this marriage that the main line of the Morgans of Tredegar stemmed; a family that were to become dominant in south-east Wales.

The children from this marriage included:

Morgan ap Llewelyn - born c1334, the heir to Tredegar.

Ifor Hael - born c1336, a name that lives on thanks to the bardic tradition. He lived at Gwern-y-Cleppa (near what is now Cleppa Park).

Philip - born c1338, who lived at St Pierre. It was from his line that the Lewis family of St Pierre descended.

It must have been shortly after the birth of their third son (Philip of St Pierre) that Llewelyn ap Ifor died. Angharad, who obviously had overcome her reluctance to matrimony, re-married as soon as decency allowed, and, according to some accounts, may even have married a third time. Tredegar passed to the eldest son, Morgan ap Llewelyn, but it was the events at Gwern-y-Cleppa, home of the second son, Ifor Hael, that capture the imagination....

Newport Civic Society

Newport Civic Society have recently launched a web-site (the link for which can be found on the right of this page). To quote from their homepage:

"The Newport Civic Society exists to promote and preserve and the environment, buildings, and architecture of the City of Newport and it environs, as well as to represent the Community's voice in planning our Civic future.
We are inspired by the past, present and future of Newport, in its natural history, its buildings, its people, culture, geography - its success as well as its failings. Only by being involved can we make a difference."

The site is well worth a visit for all Newportonians. Forums have just been set up to generate debate on Newport. An interesting poll has been set up there: Should Newport City Council Sell Tredegar House? Gad sir! A little startling perhaps; of course, I have added my not-so-humble opinions, and have written a bit about the history of the National Trust's advances towards Tredegar.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Edney Gates To Be Gilded

The wonderful 18th century 'Edney Gates' at Tredegar House are currently in the process of being gilded. They were made between 1714-1718 for John Morgan of Tredegar (whose monogram can be found at the top of the gates entwined with that of his wife, Martha's) by the brothers William and Simon Edney, who were the finest gatesmiths operating out of the west country in the early 18th century. (William Edney's work also survives in the church of St Mary Redcliffe, in Bristol).

Photographs of the newly-gilded gates will appear here on completion of the project.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sir Morgan ap Maredudd (1)

To begin at the very beginning is perhaps impossible. It is not really known when the antecedents of the Morgan family began living at Tredegar. Their family tree is colourful and spectacular in places, but as to how accurate it is we can only speculate. A popular claim in the Victorian era was that the Morgans were descended from leaders of the Silures tribe who fought against the Romans in south-east Wales. This, you would think, would be impressive enough, but not so; some imaginative scribes were content to point to Caractacus as a Morgan ancestor, others preferred to squabble over whether the Morgans were descended from the second or the third son of Noah! (My money is on Ham, the second son, personally...)

Let's begin with somebody who was undeniably 'lord of Tredegar'. Morgan ap Maredudd, sometimes referred to as Morgan the Rebel, who, according to Dr John Gwynfor Jones, "lived at Tredegar in the early decades of the fourteenth century".

Morgan was a descendant of Rhys ap Tewdwr (Tudor), King of Deheubarth, who died in 1093 in Breconshire, and of the old lords of Caerleon (it was with this connection in mind, and playing on the Caerleon as Camelot legend, that the occultist Aleister Crowley made the claim that the last Viscount Tredegar had the right to "bear Excalibur"!).

Morgan and his ancestors were caught up in the continual struggle between the native Welsh rulers and the Norman lords whose intrusions caused continual tension. In an unstable and potentially combustable atmosphere, a fine line needed to be walked. Morgan's father, Maredudd, was the last native lord of Caerleon; he had been deprived of his lands by Gilbert de Clare (who built Caerphilly Castle) in 1270, and this wound was not forgotten by Maredudd's son. (Some have claimed that it was Morgan himself who was dispossessed by de Clare, but Octavius Morgan, the antiquarian brother of the 1st Lord Tredegar believed it to be Morgan's father Maredudd)

In 1294 the Welsh, led by Madog ap Llywelyn, broke into revolt against the English. In Glamorgan and Gwent the uprising was led by Morgan. The English forces, led by the Earl of Gloucester, had very little success against Morgan's rebels; in the uprising half the town of Caerphilly was destroyed and Morlais Castle (in Merthyr) was taken by the rebels. This triumph did not last, however, and in June 1295 with defeat looming, Morgan made it clear that his rebellion was not against Edward I, but against the de Clares, the lords of Glamorgan; giving himself up to the king he obtained the royal clemency.

This is the first indication of the Morgans thinking locally rather than nationally. Their grievance was not against Edward I, as such, but against forces that threatened their interests at home.

Morgan later served the king as a squire of the household in Flanders, thus, presumably, his redemption was complete.

Just the Facts:
Name: Morgan ap Maredudd (Meredith)
Died: c1331
Children: Only one child, a daughter, Angharad
On Throne when owning Tredegar: Edward I, Edward II, Edward III

Monday, August 08, 2005

History of the Morgans of Tredegar

On Thursday (August 11) I will be starting a 'History of the Morgans of Tredegar'. It is rather ambitious, but I intend to rattle through the centuries by featuring each Morgan known to have owned Tredegar, or lived there. The way this blog works is that every post gets registered as a single web page in search engines. So, therefore, by the end of the series, every Morgan who owned Tredegar, will have their own web-page, where comments can be left, and questions asked about their life.

The first Morgan featured will be Morgan ap Meredudd (Meredith) who owned Tredegar in the early decades of the 14th century. Hopefully, the series will end with John Morgan, 6th Baron Tredegar, who died childless in 1962.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Life of a Tour Guide

Tour guiding can be stressful. What will await you when you open that front door? Will there be one person gazing up at you, or a horde of thirty or forty? As a grizzled old veteran of a guide, I sometimes smile patiently when newer guides tell me of their woes. For I still carry the scars of tours past. At night I sometimes awake in a cold sweat, terrified by images of monocles, and swearing blind, that I can hear, like a haunting melody, the strains of Noel Coward singing 'Poor Little Rich Girl'.

Surely a guide that has had to dress up in spats, bow-tie and blazer, with a boater perched precariously on the side of his head, and was forced (some like to use the word 'employed', I prefer 'forced') to conduct tours of costumes from the BBC series 'The House of Eliot' and of original 1920s dresses, without having the first idea about dresses, deserves to have the respect, nay, affection, of his peers. That was the waif-like me in 1998, when the 'Sparkling Twenties' came to Tredegar House. The tours were quite popular. Personally I became convinced that most attended the House simply to laugh at me in spats, but, I suppose, a few were interested in the remarkable dresses on display.

A year later, the costumes from the BBC series 'The Aristocrats' were put on display at the House. I was greatly relieved that the guides did not have to dress in costume for these tours. I think that kitted out in whale-bone stays and corsets (that as far as I could make out, were designed to torture the wearer), guides would have lost consciousness by the end of the day. We were very unlucky with these tours. Due to a mix-up, when the costumes were at Tredegar House, the BBC hadn't shown the programme on TV; it had been delayed. So, aside from the fans of Stella Tillyard's book, most people had never heard of 'The Aristocrats', and the tours, consequently, were quite quiet. By the end of them, though, I had learnt far more about 18th century dresses than I ever thought possible.

On the subject of tours, and the travails of guides, Alan, who has been guiding at Tredegar House since 1999 (and before that, at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire) swears blind that a couple of weeks ago, a visitor to the House asked him, in all sincerity, why the Morgans built their ancestral home so close to the motorway!

Tredegar House is open for tours, Wednesday-Sunday, until the end of September

Tours are at the following times:
11.30 am, 12.30 noon, 1.30 pm, 2.30 pm, 3.30 pm & 4 pm

Adult £5.40
Concession £3.95
Resident Rate Adult £2.65
Resident Rate Concession £2.10
Children go FREE!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Next Event: St. Mellons Show (10 August)

The 132nd St. Mellons Agricultural Show will take place in the grounds of Tredegar House on Wednesday August 10, from 8:30am till 6:00pm.

The show will include: Cattle and Sheep, Pigs and Goats, Horses and Ponies, Showjumping, Farriery, Dogs and Rabbits, Caged Birds, Vintage Tractors, Trade Stands, Craft Tent, Rural Crafts and Past Times, Children's Competitions, Children's Amusements, and Main Ring Attractions. Prices: Adults £6 Children £4 OAP £4. Car Parking is free.

The setting is very fitting, as for many centuries Tredegar was primarily an agricultural estate. Perhaps the figure who was best known to the local farming community was Sir Charles Morgan (1760-1846) who was called 'The Farmer's Friend'. He had a passion for agriculture, paid for Newport's Cattle Market in 1844, and was instrumental in the introduction of short-horned cattle into Monmouthshire. There is a painting at Tredegar House (in the Morning Room) showing Sir Charles presenting a short-horn bull to King William IV in front of Windsor Castle.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Flog It! At Tredegar House

It has been a busy week or so at Tredegar House with film crews using the superb rooms of 'Wales's Finest Restoration House' (I wonder if we could get that trademarked...) as a backdrop for filming. The first to appear were a BBC crew filming an episode for the new season of Doctor Who. They used the Dining Room and the New Hall; no David Tennant as yet (Tredegar House was used for scenes involving the 'Prime Minister'), but the crew may return later this year.

Then on Monday the crew from BBC's Flog It! antiques programme spent a whole day at the House. It was a long shoot and the results should be very interesting. They filmed in most rooms, with longer pieces in the Master's Bed Chamber (where the tale of the madness of Lady Elizabeth Dayrell was recounted), King's Room (Evan, Viscount Tredegar's week-end house parties), Brown Room and Gilt Room (the extravagance of Sir William Morgan KB and his wife Lady Rachel) and in the Side Hall (Godfrey Morgan and the Charge of the Light Brigade). The presenter, Paul Martin, also peeked into many of the rooms 'Below Stairs' and, all in all, the programme should do a lot of good for the House; it certainly looked superb on screen.

It was quite a testing day for the film crew. Their work in the morning was disrupted somewhat by the sudden appearance of an 'important person'. Filming was halted as the guest inspected the state rooms. Speculation was rife as to this person's identity. One of the crew wondered if it was royalty; the producer, Gayle, living up to her Scottish roots, thought it was someone far more important: "Is it Sean Connery?" she asked more in hope than expectation. Sadly for Gayle, it wasn't Sir Sean, but the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. I am quite sure that huge swathes of the Great British population go weak at the knees at the mere mention of his name but it seems that the MP for Blackburn failed to get the Flog It! crews' pulses racing, but were they angry and bitter at the Foreign Secretary for delaying their filming? Not a bit of it, and anyway, as one of them grinned: "We weren't going to vote Labour anyway!"

The Flog It! crew were wonderful, and the result of their work at Tredegar House will be eagerly anticipated; whether I live to see it is another matter. One of the wardens at Tredegar, Ray, runs an antiques shop in Newport. As the day's filming came to a close he spotted me in the Brown Room window and called up to me:

Ray: Paul!
Me: Yes
Ray: Get me Paul Martin's autograph. Get him to write 'To Raymond'
Me: Sorry, he's already gone.
Ray: Grrrrrr (Ray punches the palm of his hand and looks up at me with menace)

I fully recommend Raymond's antiques shop. Please visit it and spend lots of money. My health might just depend on it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Sir Henry Morgan

The Newport historian Haydn Davis sent me the following e-mail regarding Sir Henry Morgan, who, in his will, referred to his 'ever-honest cozen, Mr Thomas Morgan of Tredegar.' There is a portrait of Sir Henry in the Brown Room at Tredegar House but his exact links with the Morgans of Tredegar have always been uncertain.

Haydn wrote:

Congratulations on a great website. At last a decent source of information on the Morgans of Tredegar and an opportunity to clear up by discussion any misconceptions about this long-lived estate. This feature has immediate interest for me if only to iron out to some extent the kinks in the conflicting stories which have developed over the years about the semi-legendary Sir Henry Morgan. You see, my research, such as it is, has made me come down heavily on the side of those who believe that he was not related to the noble Morgan line, and that he was born at Llanrhymney but to one of the Morgan of Tredegar's tenant farmers. There does not seem to be any conclusive proof either way.

In support of this argument, I ask why would a young man, if he was heir to great wealth, go trawling the streets and docks of Bristol looking for work? Was he shanghaied (or barbadosed) or did he willingly sign on for the extremely harsh life of a 17th century sailor?

What evidence is there of his visits back to these shores? Were there any at all except for the brief occasion when he was recalled to London to account for acts of piracy against the Spanish after peace had been declared, only to be given a slap on the wrist, a knighthood and the Lieutenant Governorship of Jamaica? By the same token, where is the proof that he ever visited Newport and was received as a guest at Tredegar House?

His exploits in the Caribbean are legion and well documented, but at home his background is exceedingly murky!

In any debate, this would be my argument.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New Ruperra Book Published

Ruperra Castle was the second home of the Morgan family in south Wales. From the early 19th century the heir to Tredegar would usually live at Ruperra. A terrible fire in December 1941 (the third such conflagration to hit the castle in its history) gutted the place, and it is now a 'romantic ruin' with an uncertain future.

A new book 'Serving Under Ruperra: A Collection of Memories' has just been released. The book has been compiled by 'Pat Moseley and members from the Rudry Local History Group from conversations with local people and their friends and relations in the 1980s and 90s and from material donated by them'.

Anybody wishing to obtain a copy should find information via the Ruperra link to the right of this website.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Tredegar House

Tredegar House

So, what exactly is this 'blog' all about? It is, as the name suggests, about Tredegar House, a glorious 17th century mansion which was once the centre of a mighty estate and the home of the one of the most ancient of all Welsh families, the Morgans. The Morgan family sold the House in 1951 to an order of Roman Catholic nuns and it was run as a school for 23 years. It was in 1974 that the local authority, Newport Borough Council (as it then was, before they became city-slickers) bought the House and the 90 remaining surrounding acres of parkland, and began the long and laborious task of restoring Tredegar to something like its former glory.

That task continues to this day. Tredegar House is a country house back from the dead. It is rightly seen as the jewel in Newport's crown. Its red brick facade (which seems to glow when hit by the sun) is a splendid sight, and its unique features, make it one of the most important Restoration houses in Britain. Outside, the lake (known as the 'Great Pool' when it was first dug in 1791) shimmers as swans glide imperiously across the water. The magnificent stables, looking like a mansion in their own right, stand as testimony to the Morgan's passion for both horses and grandeur.

Inside the house, portraits of long-dead Morgans peer down at the visitor. Their stories amaze, beguile and intrigue to this day. In this blog I hope we can discuss both the history of the house and of the family. There are many stories that people half-know, and I hope to address them all in this blog: Didn't one of the Morgans survive the Charge of the Light Brigade? Why did Lord Tredegar bury his horse in the garden? Didn't one of them have a parrot on his shoulder? Was a Morgan at the Battle of Bosworth Field? Didn't Lord Tredegar own a gigantic yacht? Who exactly is that statue of a man sitting in a chair near the NatWest bank in the centre of Newport? Didn't one of them build bird's nests as a hobby? Wasn't one a pirate?.....there is so much to discuss.

This blog will also be used to provide updates on Tredegar House: news on upcoming events, restoration projects, the latest research and theories, and a lot of babble from me. I hope readers find it of some interest. Comments are always welcome.

Best Wishes,