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,