Saturday, December 16, 2006


With the decorations up and the carols a-blaring, Tredegar House opened its doors last night for the first time this festive season: the butler was prompt in answering the front door; Lord Tredegar welcomed guests in the Dining Room with his usual matchless grace; there was singing and dancing aplenty in the New Hall and Gilt Room; a storyteller weaved tales in the Best Chamber; a feather boa draped Olga, Lady Tredegar chatted with visitors in the King's Room; Tiny Tim limped about looking for sympathy; Mr Bumble was on the hunt for orphans for the workhouse; the cook seemed suspiciously jolly in the Kitchen; Father Christmas worked very hard in the grotto, and Scrooge showing no sign of getting into the spirit of things, attempted to sleep through it all in his bed chamber.

And that was just the first evening.

This year I am playing the part of Scrooge. It is quite refreshing to be the one person in the House who is not jolly; even Mr Bumble obviously enjoys his work.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Friends AGM: Fishing On The Lake?

Last week was the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Tredegar House. The Newport Council Cabinet Member for Culture and Recreation (the department responsible for Tredegar House) Councillor Ron Jones was present for a question and answer session after the meeting. I went along to hear what he had to say about the future direction of Tredegar House.

Councillor Jones has a long history of dealing with Tredegar House. Many years ago he was responsible for the appointment of David Freeman as curator. He indicated that this was among the best decisions he had made in the role. Certainly the spark and influence of David Freeman is still very much felt around the place today. The curator has a unique opportunity to leave their mark on Tredegar House.

There were some lively questions posed to Councillor Jones and he did not shirk from giving straight answers. Among the items of interest were (my not-so-humble opinion appearing beneath each item):

In his opinion, the National Trust should NEVER own Tredegar House.
He was quite vehement about this. Tredegar could well have ended up in National Trust hands on a few occasions in the 20th century. Evan, Viscount Tredegar was approached by them in the late 1940s, and his cousin, John, 6th and last Baron Tredegar, contemplated the idea of Trust ownership in the 1950s (but, a Roman Catholic convert, he preferred to sell it to the Sisters of St Joseph.). Recently the idea of a 'partnership' between Newport Council and the National Trust has been suggested, but it would seem that outright Trust ownership is not currently an option.

More events should be held in the grounds.
Events, even small ones, give people an excuse to come to the House. Councillor Jones suggested the idea of a Farmer's Market. I thought this a good idea. Anything (within reason) that brings people to Tredegar House is a good thing; any event that is sympathetic to the history of the House and Park is even better.

More needs to be done at Tredegar House in the winter.
Tredegar, like many historic attractions throughout the country does tend to hibernate for the winter (Christmas excluded). This break gives the curator and house staff an important opportunity to conduct restoration and cleaning projects. Nothing should be done to disrupt the essential works that need to be done. However, with a bit of planning and imagination, perhaps more (small) events could and should be put on in the winter. It is certainly possible.

Fishing on the lake?
Councillor Jones mentioned that this was still being discussed. There seems to me to be a powerful argument on both sides of this divide. Those in favour of a return to fishing on the lake argue that fishermen could, in essence, 'police' the lake, which would improve the security of the area. The awful treatment of the swans earlier this year is still fresh in the memory. Others would argue that fishing was banned from the lake in the 1980s mainly because of the danger to the wildlife: swans caught up in fishing lines, etc.

Newport Museum will not be moving to Tredegar House
This was my question to Councillor Jones. I had been dismayed to learn that an old rotting chestnut of an idea had been given new life earlier this year. In the 1970s it was first suggested that Newport Museum should move to Tredegar House. The idea, thankfully, was rejected, and the imaginative restoration of Tredegar House as an historic home began. The idea though did not die completely and it appeared that the council was giving it consideration (albeit at an exploratory stage) earlier this year. This would have been an awful plan for both Newport Museum and Tredegar House. If there is one surefire way to reduce visitor figures at Newport Museum it would be to move the museum out of the city centre. Also, people would be less keen to visit Tredegar House if it contained glass cases and was, apart from the surroundings, like any other municipal museum.

I was delighted to hear Councillor Jones confirm that the idea is now off the table. Perhaps it never was being seriously considered. Trial balloons are sometimes flown. I'm glad this one has been shot down.

All in all, it was an interesting evening. Thanks must also go to the Mayor of Newport, Councillor Miqdad Al-Nuaimi, who attended and gave a very good speech. His pride in Newport shone through very clearly and was good to hear.

I am convinced that the future of Tredegar House will be a very bright one. It has always been a very special place. As one ex-servant said to me: "It gets in your blood, Tredegar does." Lets hope more members of the public will visit and also catch the 'Tredegar bug'.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Look Up Your Genes

The episode of 'Look Up Your Genes' featuring Tredegar House (and in particular the stories of Evan and Gwyneth Morgan) is to air on Wednesday 8 November at 8.30pm on BBC 2W (digital)

Hope you can all catch it!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween at Tredegar

Halloween. How quickly it comes round.

We are preparing for the final, and, inevitably, busiest night of the Halloween festivities. For those of you who haven't been to this event: Tredegar House, essentially, is transformed into something of a 'ghost train'. You wander through the House and prepare to be frightened.

Some are good at frightening people. I am not. Being slight of stature, short on height, and rather mild mannered by nature, I am not the most intimidating of figures. I would not elicit much of a response jumping out at people, no matter how terrifying my costume might be. Consequently, you will never find me at Tredegar House at Halloween lurking in cupboards, or charging at guests shrieking profusely. Laughter not screams would fill the air.

I am usually to be found in the 'sketches' that are set up (it is very kind of those in charge to put me in these). This is far more my scene. It also gives me a chance to ham it up dreadfully. And I do mean dreadfully. My accents are a wonder to behold. I am thinking of setting up a competition whereby members of the public try to guess what accent I am supposed to be doing at any given time. I doubt many would get the continent right, never mind the nation. Still, it is all in good fun, and nothing is taken seriously.

My Halloween participation over the years has included:

The Witchfinder General, A Vicar at a Vampire Wedding, Dr Van Helsing in a 'How To Stake A Vampire' routine (I think this was my favourite. It was written by Goff Morgan, whose brand of silliness suits me perfectly), Dennis Samosa a fake Scouse psychic medium, and Dr Jekyll (twice).

This year I am back in the Receiving Cellar playing the role of Dr Boris, an archetypal Central European 'mad scientist'. The idea is a very simple one. I rant for a bit and then my 'pets' are introduced to the audience, with predictable results. All good fun. There is a little bit of audience interaction. My accent is supposed to be German, but, despite my best efforts, it goes on the Grand Tour at regular intervals (it takes in Dutch, Italian, Russian, a bit of Welsh, and even has traits of Indian and Chinese, for a truly exotic flavour). At one point I ask the audience if they have any pets. Last night I asked a lady this question in my usual over-the-top Germanish accent, only to find her replying, to my great chagrin, in German!

Halloween at Tredegar House is nothing if not unpredictable.

I would be very interested in any feedback from people who have attended the event. Stuck as I am in the cellar, I never actually see the whole thing myself. I can always pass on your messages and suggestions to the powers-that-be.

Tonight should be extremely busy. I hope there are no easily offended Germans in the House. Not that they could guess my accent in any case......

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Gwyneth (Tredegar House Back on TV)

The above image of the Hon. Gwyneth Morgan peering over her memorial stone at St Basil's Church in Bassaleg was sent to me by Monty Dart (photo taken by Tom Dart).

Gwyneth's sad fate will be featured on the BBC 2 Wales TV Programme 'Look Up Your Genes' to be aired on November 8th. It should be an interesting programme. It was the first time I have ever really been interviewed in a lot of depth about Evan and Gwyneth. It was only in the middle of rattling on that I realised just how MUCH material we have on this era at Tredegar House. I am sure most of it will end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, but the finished programme should give people a fascinating glimpse into two of Tredegar's most colourful, and perhaps misunderstood, characters.

Goff Morgan will also be on the programme discussing Aleister Crowley's relationship with Evan. Goff delves into the darker side of things while I, being far more innocent, attempt to maintain the moral high ground!

Gwyneth's memorial DOES look a little sorry for itself at the moment. Happily, this should be rectified soon. Restoration of the Morgan graves is on the agenda and we should see work progressing before March 2007.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ruth Burt To Leave

Ruth Burt, the Wedding Co-ordinator at Tredegar House, is leaving shortly. She will be greatly missed. Not only was she a great success in the post (as anybody who has married at Tredegar House could no doubt testify) but her contribution goes back far further than that. When I first arrived at Tredegar in early 1998 as a callow youth with little idea as to the historic importance of the place, Ruth was one of the first people I met. She was a tour guide at that time. A very fine one too. She very patiently taught me how to conduct a tour and took both me, and two other callow youths (callow youths were everywhere in 1998) under her wing. She has always been immensely kind to me and I - and indeed Tredegar House - owe her a lot.

Good luck Ruth.

Friday, September 08, 2006

John Morgan (d.1513) (9)

The eldest son of the venerable Sir Morgan ap John cannot have owned Tredegar for very long and very few references to him survive. This can be rather frustrating when compiling a history, but, perhaps, readers of this blog may be able to add any information that has eluded me. Piece by piece we should be able to put together the Morgan jigsaw.

John married Lettice, the daughter of Sir George Herbert of St Julians in Newport. Sir George, the third son of William, 1st Earl of Pembroke, established a power base at St Julians that threatened the local dominance of the Morgans of Tredegar. Understandably, the local gentry in those times got quite miffed when their jealously guarded local interests came under threat and often responded quite ruthlessly. Many of them had gangs of armed retainers in their employ and were not afraid to use them. The head of a powerful family resembled a 'gangland boss' far more than the Victorian ideal of the 'respectable paternal aristocrat'.

The marriage of John and Lettice did little, it would seem, to dampen the rivalry between the two families. The Morgans and the Herberts would soon clash.

John died in 1513. His eldest son William succeeded, and, fortunately for us, the surviving material documenting his life is far richer.

The image above is the 'Back View of St Julian's House' which appeared in William Coxe's 'An Historical Tour of Monmouthshire' in 1801. St Julians was built by John Morgan's father-in-law Sir George Herbert. The sad destruction of the House in the 20th century, and the way in which it was done, is a dark chapter in Newport's recent past.

Click to view previous chapters from this series:

8. Sir Morgan ap John d. c1504
7. Sir John Morgan d. c1492
6. Ieuan ap Llywelyn ap Morgan
5. Llywelyn ap Morgan (lost Tredegar in 1402)
4. Morgan ap Llywelyn d. c1384
3. Ifor Hael of Gwern y Cleppa
2. Llywelyn ap Ifor and Angharad
1. Sir Morgan ap Maredudd d. c1331

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ruperra On The Brink

Ruperra Castle, for many years home to the heir of the Tredegar Estates, is threatened by property development and continuing neglect.

Wandering through beautiful countryside it suddenly emerges through the trees. The massive frame (and, sadly, frame is the right word these days) of Ruperra Castle still looms over the landscape. It is such a desperately sad sight to see. Some see ruins as romantic. In Ruperra's case I think they are more tragic than anything else. Since that dreadful fire during the Second World War the castle has deteriorated. One tower collapsed in the 1980s, and, unless something is done quickly, others are sure to follow.

Change and the modern world seem ready to obliterate the magical setting of Ruperra Park. The current owner, Mr Barakat, has a planning application being considered for the building of houses directly around the castle. The castle itself could one day become luxury apartments. The inside quite alien to the outside, like historical taxidermy. Some will see this as inevitable. It has happened at countless places around the United Kingdom. Is there a reason to stop it? Is it even possible to stop the seemingly relentless charge of urbanisation? Money seems to talk louder than the faint cry of protest from beseiged history.

And yet, the closer you get to Ruperra Castle the more you realise that the past has not yet been totally destroyed. The lost tower can be rebuilt, the interior walls are surprisingly strong, the cellars are in a remarkably good state of preservation, and the grounds maintain the promise of matchless beauty. You can almost imagine young Godfrey Morgan in front of the castle being informed by a breathless postboy of the Chartist uprising in Newport in 1839. Trying to impress a watching girl the postboy was rather melodramatic and spoke of doom, and how he had barely escaped with his life. The little eight year old Godfrey's reply of "bother your chartists, come and help me catch this rabbit!" still echoes around the place.

Memories still live at Ruperra. Memories of King Charles I using the castle as refuge during the Civil War; of John Morgan the Merchant plotting grandiose plans within its walls; of General Thomas Morgan seething, perhaps in the Banqueting Hall, at the actions of Lady Rachel Morgan, to rob him of his Tredegar inheritance; of celebrations at Colonel Frederic Morgan's countless election triumphs; of Lord Tredegar's shooting parties; of Mrs Mundy riding imperiously out of the stables; of weddings, of births, of deaths; of countless servants living and working in the castle; of estate workers; of beautiful gardens and proud gardeners. But what are they worth when the property developer comes calling? What cares he for history?

There is a better way. I know Ruperra Castle can be restored. It would be a huge job, but I know it can be done. This is the last chance, however. The Planning Department need to be made aware that the public do not wish houses to be built on the site. I urge you to write as soon as possible to them and make your feelings known. Only through an outpouring of public feeling can the castle be saved.

Write to:

The Chief Planning Officer
Caerphilly County Borough Council
NP12 2YW

The following quotations have been taken from the new Ruperra Castle Blog

"Most castles are well cared for, but not this one....which is sliding further into dereliction. Ruperra is a test of the Welsh system of protecting of the country's greatest buildings. If Ruperra is lost or degraded then that test will have been fluffed."
Ancient Monuments Society

"Ruperra was one of the great Renaissance houses of South Wales. It's destruction by fire in 1941 was a national tragedy, the neglect of the house and park that surrounds it is a national disgrace."
Dr. Giles Worsley - Perspectives on Architecture

"Anything that Cadw can do to protect the site would be of inestimable value. One does think of Ruperra‘s sister building, Lulworth Castle which has been so lovingly and skilfully restored by English Heritage."
Mark Girouard - architectural historian

"It is the most significant building at risk of its period in the whole of the UK and its continued neglect is an indictment of the effectiveness of the system for protecting buildings of outstanding architectural and historic interest."
Professor Malcolm Airs: Author of 'the Tudor and Jacobean House'

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Most Ghastly Murder!

(Photograph taken on the night of the Murder Mystery, very kindly sent to me by Mr Glenn Behenna)

The Murder Mystery was a success, and it is likely that more will follow. The feedback has been very positive. Guests entered via the New Hall (original 17th century front door) to be greeted by the Hon. Frederic George Morgan. A glass of wine awaited them, as well as the chance to question the suspects. Did Lady Tredegar love birds enough to kill her husband? What about John Morgan's lack of success on the Gaming Tables of Monte Carlo? Did Evan Morgan's need for cash to hush up a scandal cause him to murder his father? What about Fred? Was he as honest as publicly thought?

After the Morgans were grilled, it was over to the Morgan Room for dinner.

I can't really give a detailed report of the evening because there is a chance that the plot may be re-used in the future. Suffice to say that the butler, Mr Sloman, came up with the goods, and the murderer was apprehended by the local constabulary. It came as quite a shock to the rest of the family. But life at dear old Tredegar continues.....

Other ideas are in the pipeline. A Victorian murder at Tredegar next, or perhaps even a 17th century crime, are being contemplated. Which Morgan will be killed off next? Nobody is safe from the pen of Goff Morgan!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Busy Time

A little update:

'Unexplored Tredegar' has been confirmed. Every Saturday in August, another chance to see the parts of the House that are not usually open. Tours at 1pm and 3pm. Tickets to be booked in advance on (01633) 815880

'Torchwood' the Doctor Who spin-off starring John Barrowman is to be filmed at the House. There is also the possibility of 'Dracula', a new BBC version of Stoker's gothic classic, (scheduled for Boxing Day), also using Tredegar to film. There has been much speculation among staff as to who should be the new Dracula. For what it's worth, some of us tend to favour Richard E Grant for the role. All shall be revealed no doubt.

Update - so much for Richard E Grant - it seems that the role of 'Dracula' will be played by Marc Warren (Hustle, Band of Brothers, Oliver Twist) with 'Lucy' already confirmed to be Sophia Myles (Thunderbirds, From Hell, and who was last at Tredegar House to film the Doctor Who episode 'The Girl In The Fireplace' when she played 'Reinette')

The Murder Mystery is now sold out. I'm very pleased about this. The script is in (another devilish one, by the incomparable Goff Morgan); it is 1923 and on the day of the Balaklava Dinner, Lord Tredegar is murdered. It is up to the guests to interview the suspects and solve the mystery. I am to play (inevitably, perhaps) that most innocent of creatures, the Hon. Evan Morgan.

The Ruperra Castle situation is becoming critical. The owner has submitted plans. They involve apartments for the castle, and a series of houses to be built around it. Time is running out for the birthplace and home of so many Morgans. It is easy to imagine a Ruperra Compound like Cefn Mabli. But would that just be the thin end of the wedge? So often initial building projects like this open the door for future development. I would urge all who are concerned about this to contact me. Something must be done soon, or it will be too late.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ruperra Woodland Festival 2006

Pat Moseley supplied me with an excellent photograph of 'King Charles I' posing by the new Ruperra panels to accompany the following press release, but I can't seem to upload them. I shall work on it.

King Charles I paid a return visit to Ruperra Castle on the weekend of 8 /9 July after an absence of 350 years. To greet him was the present Lord Lieutenant of Gwent, Simon Boyle, patron of Ruperra Conservation Trust.

King Charles walked along the drive at the back of the castle, still known as the King’s Drive, to get a view of the castle where he had stayed for four nights in July 1645 desperately seeking help for his cause from local gentry. His Majesty noted that the building was in a very sorry state compared with the ‘castle fit for a king’ that he had stayed in.

He also walked about among the stall holders at the Festival and watched members of the public trying their hand at rug weaving in the Pyefinch marquee, at old methods of carpentry and at building an otter holt under the direction of John Bell. He saw the Coed Hills artists building an oven outside their yurts, and visited the Orienteering tent from where children and their parents were directed to a delightful tree trail in the woods. The youngest children went on an animal picture hunt which they thoroughly enjoyed.

King Charles’ entourage of Sealed Knot members demonstrated 17th life in their encampment and let visitors try out the Civil War weaponry. Guided by the advice of a 17th herbalist, King Charles had his own food and drink provided by his valet so he did not partake of the lovely cakes and teas and coffees on sale at Ruperra Trust’s cabin where members of the Trust worked hard raising money. He saw the splendid art and written work prepared by local schoolchildren for the launch of a book ‘Serving under Ruperra’ and he posed for a photograph by the new Ruperra panels all funded by the Heritage Lottery.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Tredegar House Murder Mystery

Here is quite a unique opportunity. Care to spend an evening at Tredegar House, have dinner, and then solve a sinister murder mystery? Well here is your chance.

Lord Tredegar has been murdered and the suspects are waiting to be questioned. The finger of suspicion points at the Morgan family itself!

Who could have done such a ghastly deed?

Was it Lord Tredegar's taciturn and often grumpy brother?

Perhaps it was his young and ambitious nephew?

His wild and unpredictable daughter?

His eccentric wife?

Or perhaps it was his own son and heir?

All shall be revealed.......

Transport yourselves back to the 1920's where Tredegar House holds a secret of murder and betrayal. You will be able to interrogate the suspects in the stunning staterooms throughout the house, where the mystery unfolds.

A three course supper will be served in the Brewhouse Complex, where you can discuss evidence and decide 'whodunnit' with your fellow detectives.

All will be revealed by the costumed characters before the evening ends.

£30 per head, includes 3 course supper.

All ticked to be booked in advance on (01633) 815880.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Happy 113th Birthday!

113 years ago today, the last member of the Morgan family to live at Tredegar House was born.

Evan Frederic Morgan, 4th Baron, 2nd Viscount Tredegar, Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, Knight of the Constantinian Order of St George, Knight of St John of Jerusalem, Knight of Malta, Knight of the Cape and Sword to Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI, (among other titles) was born on July 13, 1893.

Some quotations on Evan from certain notables:

"The inimitable Evan Morgan, poet, painter, musician, aristocrat and millionaire. The unique fairy prince of modern life."
Aldous Huxley

"A fantasy"
Nancy Cunard

"The one person I know who CAN give a party."
Aleister Crowley

"A little red absurdity, with a beak of a nose, no chin, and with the general likeness to a callow but student bantam cock that has run to legs and neck."
Virginia Woolf

"The re-incarnation of Rameses. He must posses cosmic secrets."
Ronald Firbank

"A character straight out of fiction"
Barbara Cartland

"A birdlike sort of man. Possibly because his mother, the dowager Lady Tredegar, built the biggest bird's nest in all the world...She apparently hatched nothing in it except - who knows - Evan?"
Gore Vidal

"There seems to be much wrong with him."
Sir Caspar John

"He tinkers."
H.G. Wells (when asked about Evan's intelligence)

"Sometimes suffers from a too volatile fancy in conjunction with an overactive tongue."
Augustus John

"He should not have lived in this century. He should have been born in a doge's palace."
Sir Walter Monckton

He was a quite extraordinary man. For all those who would sneer and degrade Evan Morgan in his lifetime, there would be an equal or greater army who would defend and sing his praises. They would speak of a man who fought a constant battle against pomposity and dullness and routed the pair of them. They would speak of acts of great kindness. Of an incomparable host, raconteur and friend. Of a man who was always surrounded by laughter, because he generated it himself. Fearless, impetuous and eccentric to the point of madness, he always lived life on his terms. He was the sort of person who made life more interesting, more fun, more exciting.

He was a poet, novelist, artist, musician, gourmet, pilot, occultist, papal chamberlain, collector, arts patron, bird tamer, journalist, parliamentary candidate, diplomatic attache, Major in the military, part of the secret service....the list goes on and on.

He preferred fantasy to reality and who could really blame him? His outlook on life seemed to be: on to the next adventure, the next horizon, but, never, ever, stop moving, not for a second. He always moved quickly and was very agile, (Augustus John suggested his movement was very bird-like) and appeared to be constantly restless. Perhaps he was. The lines that best sum up Evan Morgan (and perhaps the era in which he lived) for me, come from Tennyson's Ulysses:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

Evan Morgan was never in any danger of rust.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Sold Out!

'Unexplored Tredegar' finishes its month-long experimental run tomorrow. The final two tours are now sold out.

Thank you to all who came along. I'll be posting a review of the month over the week-end.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sir Morgan ap John (8) (d.1504)

"Speak the truth and only then can you be freed of your chains." (Statue of Cornish revolt leaders Michael 'An Gof' and Thomas Flamank)

Peace was not something that came easily in Tudor England. The War of the Roses was finally at an end but few people were under the illusion that the struggles were over. There was always a new threat on the horizon. Always a new enemy to be confronted, or an old to be re-confronted.

The newly built Tredegar House encapsulated this. Built by Sir John Morgan, probably c1490, it was built around three sides of a central courtyard, its windows faced inwards for defensive purposes. These were indeed still dangerous times.

Morgan ap John had succeeded his illustrious father in 1492. Tales and songs of 'The Fat Knight' were probably still well known in the locality. In many ways, Morgan had a big act to follow. He was, however, a firm Tudor supporter, and served his king on the battlefield. If his father had helped put Henry VII on the throne, Morgan would help in keeping him there. Although, if truth be told, the battle that Morgan participated in was rather more one-sided than the fabled Battle of Bosworth Field.

Henry VII had a problem. In 1491 a figure appeared in Ireland claiming to be the younger of the two Princes in the Tower. It did not really matter that he was an imposter by the name of Perkin Warbeck, a Flemish custom officer's son. Warbeck was a dangerous symbol around which enemies of the Tudor dynasty could rally. He had been proclaimed as 'King Richard IV', moved to Scotland, where he married a Scottish noblewoman and found an enthusiastic ally in the Scottish King James IV; he threatened to invade England and clearly was a danger to the new regime.

Henry VII raised taxes to fund an invasion of Scotland. This, in turn, caused unrest in Cornwall. The hard-pressed Cornish tin miners already lived in poverty, were already taxed on the small amounts of money they were making, and felt aggrieved that they had to suffer further for a struggle so far away that they did not feel involved with. Two local men, Thomas Flamank, a lawyer from Bodmin, and Michael Joseph, or Michael 'An Gof' ('the smith') raised an army to march on London against the King and his taxes.

On the roads to London they gathered more supporters. Yeomen from Plymouth joined the march, and they were joined by Lord Audley from Somerset who took command of the rebels. Some have estimated the group numbered 40,000 by the time it reached London. Unfortunately, although sympathetic to the cause, many of the marchers did not want to encounter a well-drilled, well-equipped army of the King on the battlefield, and they drifted away leaving about 15,000 rebels, armed with mainly country weapons, to face the King's forces.

Among the King's forces that met the Cornish rebels at Blackheath on 17 June 1497 was Morgan ap John of Tredegar. He must have been very confident of success. The odds were stacked massively in the King's favour. They numbered 25,000 to the rebels 15,000, and, far more importantly, they had horse and artillery. The battle was a complete mis-match. Estimates of losses vary; some say 300 rebels were killed, others maintain that figure should be closer to 2000. All agree, however, that the King's forces were barely scratched, their losses were claimed by some to have been in single figures!

After the battle Morgan was knighted. He died in 1504 to be succeeded by his son, John.

The leaders of the revolt were executed.

Michael An Gof went to his death defiantly, claiming that his name would be "perpetual" and that he would gain a fame "permanent and immortal". Thomas Flamank died urging "Speak the truth and only then can you be freed of your chains." 500 years later, in 1997, the Battle of Blackheath and the Cornish revolt was remembered when thousands of Cornish people took part in a memorial march from Cornwall to Blackheath. A statue of An Gof and Flamank now stands in the village where it all began in 1497.

Sir Morgan ap John

Died: 1504

Married: Margaret daughter of Sir Thomas Morgan of Pencoed

Children: John of Tredegar; Margaret

Click to view previous Tredegar owners in this series:

7. Sir John Morgan d. c1492

6. Ieuan ap Llywelyn ap Morgan (father of Sir John)

5. Llywelyn ap Morgan (lost Tredegar after Glyndwr revolt)

4. Morgan ap Llywelyn (died c1384)

3. Ifor Hael of Gwern y Cleppa

2. Llywelyn ap Ifor and Angharad

1. Sir Morgan ap Maredudd (died c1331)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Stairs To Nowhere

As mentioned by Andrew in the comment below, we have the dramatically titled 'stairs-to-nowhere' which can be found in the Family Beer Cellar. (above)

I'm pleased to report that both 'Unexplored Tredegar' tours were pretty much sold out on Saturday, so the experiment seems to be working. The tours continue every Saturday throughout this month, at 1pm and 3pm. Phone Tredegar House to book tickets in advance; there may be a few available in the visitor's centre on the day, but why take the chance?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Unexplored Tredegar Starts Today

The doorway to the Receiving Cellar, which contains a natural spring guarded by remarkable stone heads, and a very curious soda water bottling plant. It is an odd tour!

The 'Unexplored' tours start today. I attempted to wander around on my own yesterday, running the tour through in my head, and checking my timing, but got waylaid, and ended up hunting for a tunnel instead! All will become clear on the tour.

Stephen Sully, the Tredegar House Admin Officer, was a huge help in compiling this tour. He has a great knowledge and understanding of the 'unexplored' parts of the House, and was invaluable (and patient) as I pestered him for his ideas, and his recollections of how things looked in the 1970s when he first started working at Tredegar.

But despite our combined efforts, there are still many things that puzzle us. Hopefully visitors will have some ideas of their own. There is more detective work to be done.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

'Unexplored Tredegar' Tours

This should be interesting. I have had great fun researching and writing this tour, and I hope it will be well received. The perfect antidote to the frustrating and tantalising 'locked doors' we all encounter when visiting historic houses.

It's time to open the locked doors...

Unexplored Tredegar Saturday 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th June

Discover many of the un-restored and rarely viewed aspects of the House, grounds and outbuildings. You will explore the servant's sleeping quarters, cellars, children's nursery, stable block and much more - a rare treat.

The tour finishes in the Old Brewhouse, originally used for brewing the estate beer, where afternoon tea will be served.

Tours run at 1pm and 3pm, all tickets must be booked in advance by telephoning (01633) 815880.

Adults £6.00 Concessions £5.00 to include afternoon tea

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Edney Gates (relatively newly gilded)

I began to read back through the archive of this blog yesterday, and realised that I never did post the photographs of the newly gilded Edney Gates that I promised. So, belatedly, and with profuse apologies, here they are: we see the facade (above) and the gates in all their glory with the stables in the background (below)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sir John Morgan (7)

To say that Sir John Morgan's father's name was a bit of a mouthful is to put it mildly. There was a lot of character in Welsh names in the 15th century, but it could take an awful long time to actually say them. A name was rather like a family tree. Using a series of 'aps' ('son of') the lineage was proudly displayed, but was surely enough to test the patience of the most polite of readers or listeners. John's father, for instance, went by the name of Ieuan ap Morgan ap Llywelyn ap Morgan ap Llywelyn ap Ifor of Tredegar.

It was John who decided to drop the series of 'aps' and decided on a surname, as Anthony Pickford writes in 'Between Mountain And Marsh' (1946)

"The descendants of Llywelyn ap Ifor, living in some form of house at Tredegar, decided that their name was to be that of the old family Christian name, the old royal name of Morganwg; the famous name of Morgan."

John was created a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre (possibly c1448). He had visited the Holy Lands where the Crusades had been fought. At this time, pilgrimage was becoming a popular venture among noblemen. Rather like today's 'package holidays' it was entirely possible, for a price, to have everything arranged for you; from the transport, to the food, to the guide. Not all 'packages' were as attractive as they seemed; noblemen were advised to use Venetian ships or risk ending up at the bottom of the sea!

The behaviour of certain noblemen on pilgrimage often left a lot to be desired. Fifteenth century graffiti was a problem and it was not particularly difficult to identify the culprits. We can only hope that Sir John did not follow the disrespectful trend of noblemen that chose to carve their family crest on the walls inside the Holy Sepulchre itself.

Upon returning to Wales, Sir John cemented his fortune and influence, and helped guide the Morgans firmly back into the ascendancy, after the unfortunate aftermath of the Glyndwr rebellion. He married Jenet, the daughter and heiress of John David Matthew of Llandaff. The Matthew family were very influential and the match seems to have been a beneficial and successful one; ten children resulted from it.

Sir John was a large figure in South East Wales in more ways than one. He was locally powerful (even in pre-Tudor times he was appointed Steward of Gwynllwg) and physically immense. Tales of his martial prowess survive in the songs of his bard, as do descriptions of his stature: he was known as 'Y Marchog Tew' ('The Fat Knight'). His bard was, perhaps, no less statuesque, as he went by the name of 'Gwilym Tew' ('Fat William'). This heavyweight combination has left us with a vivid impression of Sir John Morgan of Tredegar. Gwilym called him 'The Widespread Wine of Wentloog' for his generosity in the locality, but perhaps Sir John could afford to be generous because of rather shady dealings that got him into trouble with the authorities on more than one occasion...

On 22 February 1476, Sir John was bound to the King in a bond of 300 marks which would only be cancelled if he appeared in chancery within three weeks of easter and did not leave London without the King's express permission; and, as stated by Ralph A Griffiths ('The Principality of Wales In The Later Middle Ages, 1972) "in the following June he entered into a bond of 500 marks with Duke Henry of Buckingham to ensure his good conduct in the lordship of Newport." Good conduct was the very last thing on Sir John's mind in 1485, when, following something of a Morgan tradition, in the footsteps of his ancestors Sir Morgan ap Maredudd and Llywelyn ap Morgan, he supported rebellion.

An early supporter of Henry Tudor's claim to the throne of England, Sir John rallied to the Red Dragon Standard when Henry landed in Milford Haven in August 1485. It is likely that such a rich, influential and firm Tudor supporter, with such a reputation for competence on the battlefield (even if we only know this thanks to the flattering words of a paid poet) would have been present at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August. History is full of 'what ifs'. What if Richard III had won the Battle of Bosworth Field? What sort of building would Tredegar House be today? Would it even exist? Fortunately for the Morgans, at last, one of their rebellions proved successful.

When Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII it was of great benefit to the Morgans of Tredegar. Sir John received reward for his early support almost immediately. On 7 November 1485 he was appointed by the new king 'steward and receiver of Ebboth for life', granted the office of Sheriff of Wentloog and Newport, and was made Steward of the Machen Commote.

His elevation to officer of the Tudor crown placed Sir John Morgan's influence and power at a new height. To better reflect this newly found status it is likely that, sometime after the Battle of Bosworth Field (perhaps c1490), he commissioned the building of a new house at Tredegar. A wing of Sir John's stone manor house still exists. It is now the oldest part of the present day Tredegar House.

In retrospect, making Sir John 'steward and receiver of Ebboth for life' was not the wisest move made by the incoming Tudor dynasty. Certain taxes that were meant to flow through Sir John to the crown only got as far as Tredegar House. There was a distinct lack of flowing. It would appear that 'The Fat Knight's' purse grew fatter at the expense of the crown treasury, and "on 14 May 1491 he was reprimanded accordingly" (Griffiths, 1972)

Walking around the much remodelled remains of Sir John Morgan's house at Tredegar today, it is tempting to picture a Falstaffian figure, being praised to the Heavens by his adoring bards (much as Dafydd ap Gwilym did for Ifor Hael), enjoying his new status, and all the while hoping that the crown would not catch up with his latest scheme to enrich himself at their expense. But, if we take c1490 as the date of the building of his new stone manor house, it is unlikely that Sir John enjoyed living there for very long.

His will is dated 26 October 1491 and it is likely that he died soon after that, possibly in the following year. He was buried at St Woollos. His alabaster tomb was, according to Octavius Morgan, desecrated by Parliamentarian troops during the Civil War; only fragments of his effigy survive, but, even after centuries of damage by time and fate, the image is still recognisably Sir John Morgan of Tredegar; it shows a figure wearing the Lancastrian collar, with an unmistakable little paunch underneath his armour.

Sir John Morgan
Died: c1492
Married: Jennet, daughter of John David Matthew of Llandaff

Children Included:

Sir Morgan ap John of Tredegar (I know, I know, the 'aps' are back, but they do not last!)

Thomas Morgan of Machen
He acted as Esquire to the body of King Henry VII and built Plas Machen after his lord gained the throne of England at Bosworth Field in 1485. The Morgans were rewarded and were allowed to purchase the manors of Bedwellty and Mynyddislwyn. They were rather unpromising lands back then, but the soil contained rich mineral deposits that added greatly to the fortune of future members of the Morgan family.

Thomas married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Roger Vaughan of Brecon, and many of their children were set up in estates of their own (the Morgans really were more of a clan than simply a family and had cadet branches all over South Wales), their children included: Rowland (who became sheriff in 1588), Reynold (of Llanfedw), John (of Bassaleg) and Edmund (of Bedwellty).

Thomas's grandson, another Thomas, built Ruperra Castle in 1626.

John (m. Margaret, daughter of J. Richards of the Duffryn)
Lewis (d. 1491)
Isabella (m. James Kemeys of Llanvihangel-Vach, Glamorgan)

Click to view previous Tredegar owners in this series:

6. Ieuan ap Llywelyn ap Morgan (father of Sir John)
5. Llywelyn ap Morgan (lost Tredegar in 1402)
4. Morgan ap Llywelyn (died c1384)
3. Ifor Hael of Gwern y Cleppa
2. Llywelyn ap Ifor and Angharad
1. Sir Morgan ap Maredudd (died c1331)

The Ruperra Book Launch

Ruperra Castle on the day of the book launch. (Photograph by Samantha Lilygreen)

Press release by Pat Moseley:


On Friday 28th April 2006, a beautiful spring day, Home Farm Ruperra was the venue for Ruperra Conservation Trust’s book launch of “Serving Under Ruperra”, a collection of recorded memories of people who worked on the Ruperra Estate at the beginning of the 20th century. The costs of printing the book and of the launch were funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund scheme “Awards for All.” Dame Liz Forgan, Chairman of the national Heritage Lottery Fund sent her congratulations.

The decorations were provided by students from local comprehensive schools, with art work and written contributions by local primary school children who also entertained the visitors with singing and dancing. The highlight of the performances was a little drama about the problems of the cook at Ruperra Castle in 1900. The teachers had excelled in conveying the meaning of heritage to their pupils.


Councillor Phil Bevan, Chairman of the Trust introduced the proceedings and lending their support were Lord Raglan, Simon Boyle Lord Lieutenant of Gwent and the patron of the Trust, Wayne David MP for Caerphilly, and Paul Flynn MP for Newport West, Jeff Cuthbert AM, William Graham AM, Owen John Thomas AM and Mrs Penny Matthews Chairman of Bedwas, Machen and Trethomas Community Council who presented a cheque. Griff Rhys Jones sent his good wishes.

Dan Clayton-Jones, the guest speaker and chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee for Wales, stressed the disaster facing our historic heritage at the present time when more and more historic buildings are being bought up by developers who have very little regard for the historic landscape surrounding them, and who destroy our countryside with inappropriate housing schemes.

Both Wayne David MP and Jeff Cuthbert AM congratulated the teachers of the local schoolchildren who showed a magnificent enthusiasm for their heritage. Owen John Thomas AM who serves on the Culture Committee in the Welsh Assembly Government, pointed out that castles are one of Wales’ most important assets which should be protected and preserved so that people can enjoy and appreciate their heritage. Pat Moseley who compiled the book, was glad that Caerphilly County Borough Council’s Unitary Development Plan provides special protection for Ruperra.

The event was a huge success; the excellent attendance and amount of donations bearing witness to the popular support for Ruperra Castle.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Little Peek Into The New Ruperra Book

The Staircase at Ruperra Castle (c1920s)

As the date for the launch of Pat Moseley's book 'Serving Under Ruperra' gets ever closer I thought it might be a nice time to post an extract. It is an interesting look at the upheaval caused at Ruperra whenever the Morgans decided to stay. The quotations come from a maid who worked at the castle and who, according to Pat, only went to work there because she was in love with the gardener! The Lord Tredegar referred to is Courtenay Morgan (1867-1934) 3rd Baron, 1st Viscount Tredegar.

" Then suddenly there would be a rush - ‘His Lordship is coming tomorrow with a little party.’ Then all the dust sheets would come off all through the place. The grates were enormous with great big stands, which had to be done with emery paper - that was the most horrible job ever! All the figures in the grates and the armour on each little landing had to be kept without a speck of dust on them, even in the cracks.

When Lord Tredegar had been shooting, pheasants would be hung up in the kitchen until they stank. The place used to be stinking of pheasants. How the cooks managed, I’ll never know. I had to help with the feathering and I used to cry because the maggots would be climbing up over my hands.

There was a staff dining room, the servants’ hall, very big with a huge table down the middle. When there was any big do the staff would come from Tredegar House and you sat in order of status. Of course I was at the bottom end of the table, wasn’t I! When Lord Tredegar came he brought a butler, 2 footmen and about 20 staff with him. Perhaps he’d only stay one night and there’d be all this upheaval! When he wasn’t in residence we were only four so we used the butler’s pantry for our meals. Of course we had to clear out of there when the butler from Tredegar House came. He took over then with the kitchen maids and scullery maids and you had to be on your best behaviour. We were the underdogs. We were ‘the Ruperra’ we weren’t ‘the Tredegar House.’ You had to shut your mouth and do as you were told. And believe it or not, if one of the Tredegar housemaids wanted something from their bedroom I was told to go up and get it. I was of the same status but it made no difference. They wanted to show their authority. One time after being sent all the way up those stairs two or three times for something trivial, I said ‘If you want it from upstairs, fetch it yourself!’ I was reported to Miss Watts and severely told off. By this time I didn’t care because my gardener and I had finished anyway!’

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Spooky Tales Resume

Just a quick reminder that Goff Morgan's Spooky Tales tours start up again on Friday 21 April at 7pm. Book your tickets in advance by phoning Tredegar House on (01633) 815880

Who knows, you might be able to celebrate the Queen's 80th birthday by bumping into the ghost of her ancestor King Charles I or His Majesty's elderly three-fingered host Sir William Morgan. If you do, be sure to point it out to Goff won't you?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Ruperra Book Launch (April 28)

(above print of Ruperra Castle by John Charlton - Godfrey, Viscount Tredegar's favourite artist - is available as part of a set from Jorrocks Books - other Morgan-ish items available are The Meet (Lord Tredegar's), The Portico and Colonel Morgan)

I received the following message from Pat Moseley of the Ruperra Conservation Trust. Hopefully, in the future Pat will be a regular contributor to this blog, to bring us all the latest news on that second Morgan home in South Wales, Ruperra Castle. I am greatly looking forward to the book launch and I hope to meet as many of you there as possible.

"On Friday April 28th 2006 there will be a launch of the book "Serving under Ruperra" at Ruperra Home Farm.

This event is funded by the Heritage Lottery Board's "Awards for All" scheme. Local school children will be providing written contributions and other entertainment and people who contributed to the contents of the book will be honoured.

This will be a lunch time event and if you would like to attend please phone 029 2088 5840 or email

The main guest speaker will be Dan Clayton-Jones, chairman of the Wales Heritage Lottery Board who was one of the founder members of Ruperra Conservation Trust. Several Assembly members will also attend as well as Caerphilly MP Wayne David. Newport's Paul Flynn MP hopes to attend also. There will be refreshments and a free copy of the book! Last orders please!"

Thursday, April 13, 2006

See You Monday!

The Friends of Tredegar House celebrated their 25th anniversary with a dinner held in the Morgan Room at Tredegar House last night. The main speaker was David Freeman, ex-curator of the House, who played a prominent part in the establishment of the Friends organisation all those years ago.

I think it is vital to kick-start the new season with a decent attendance at the Medieval Day on Easter Monday. I shall be there, so please come up and say hello if you get the chance. The readership of this blog always intrigues me. I have received e-mails from so many people, from so many different parts of the world, it is wonderful to know that Tredegar House still captures the imagination of so many.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The House Awakes

It is that time of the year again, when Tredegar House, after a winter of apparent slumber (in reality it has been a remarkably hectic close season) re-opens its doors to the public.

Visitors to the House will see some noticeable differences: the stairwell has been repainted and is now resplendent in Indian Yellow. It certainly brightens up that portion of the House. A new family portrait is now added to the walls at the top of the staircase, that of Thomas Morgan of Machen, a late 16th, early 17th century Morgan, who played a large part in the tale of the dynasty. Also, newly hung portraits of Sir Charles Morgan and his son, Sir Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan (the 1st Baron Tredegar) are now alongside those of their ancestors and descendants.

The Best Chamber has been completely re-painted as well. It is now 'Tallow', which is an off-white with a slight yellow tint.

School tours began once more on Monday, and, on Easter Monday (April 17th), the House will be open for a free-flow (no guided tours, you wander around at your own pace, and there are stewards in each room to answer any questions) Medieval day. Bowmen of the Rose, a 15th century re-enactment group will be present to add to the atmosphere. House open 11am-4pm. Prices: Adult £4, Newport Resident £2.26 (to be precise!), Concession £2.10,

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ieuan ap Llywelyn ap Morgan (6)

Llywelyn ap Morgan had lost Tredegar, but whereas such a cataclysmic state of affairs perhaps would have sunk a less durable dynasty, it proved to be merely a blip in the fortunes of the Morgans of Tredegar.

One weapon the Morgans wielded with skill throughout the centuries was marriage. Dynastic marriages managed to greatly expand the family's wealth and prestige in the years to come, but in those uncertain few years after the failure of Owain Glyndwr's revolt, it was a tactical match that saved the Morgan aspirations.

Llywelyn arranged a lucrative marriage between his eldest son Ieuan and Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas ap Llywelyn of Brecknock, brother of that sworn enemy of Glyndwr, Dafydd Gam.

Dafydd Gam (or 'Dafydd of the Squint', a rather unfortunate nickname perhaps) had long supported the King and actively opposed Glyndwr's rebellion. A man of great personal courage he died at Agincourt fighting alongside Henry V, and some sources credit him as having saved the King's life that day. To bring Dafydd's niece into the Morgan fold was something of a masterstroke and it seems to have allayed any lingering suspicions the authorities may have had about rebellious intentions still emanating from Tredegar.

Assuming that the Morgans received their estates back soon after this marriage, Tredegar passed on to Ieuan (or 'Jevan' as he appears in some sources) who faced the task of re-establishing their local pre-eminence. Ieuan appears to have lived to a very old age, so long in fact, that the Victorian antiquary Thomas Wakeman explored claims that Ieuan had been present at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Since his father had come of age almost a century before that, it is unlikely that Richard III would have been shaking in his boots at the prospect of meeting this ancient Morgan on the field of battle.

Although, if Ieuan had been born relatively late, he could have been present at Bosworth in his late eighties, and although this seems rather implausible, it was not unknown for octagenarians to participate, and participate valiantly, in battle at the time.

If Ieuan was still alive at the time of Bosworth it seems more likely that he would have declared his support for the Tudor cause but left the actual fighting to his son, Sir John.

When Ieuan eventually died is not known but, perhaps some time after the Tudor dynasty began their reign on the throne of England, he, as Thomas Wakeman concluded: "probably retired to Tredegar and died in his bed."

Married: Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas ap Llywelyn


Sir John Morgan
Jenkin born c1454

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Llywelyn ap Morgan (5)

Roughly a year after Llywelyn ap Morgan succeeded to Tredegar, the small town of Newport (in 1385) was granted its first town charter. Llywelyn, himself, had been granted the Lordship of Magor which, although admittedly small, does give some indication of the local power that the owner of Tredegar wielded.

Within twenty years, the fledgling town of Newport would be all but destroyed, and Llywelyn would have his lands confiscated.

The force which swept all this away was the revolt of Owain Glyndwr. In 1400 Glyndwr, in open defiance of the King of England, Henry IV, was proclaimed Prince of Wales by his band of followers. In that first year, Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Oswestry, Ruthen and Hawarden all fell to the forces of Glyndwr. Nearly the whole of Northern and Central Wales was in his hands, and by the end of 1401 the revolt, like a forest fire, had spread into South Wales.

Llywelyn ap Morgan decided to pledge his support to Glyndwr. This may have stemmed from a feeling of shared blood between the two men, for not only were they obviously both Welsh, and no doubt shared a love of country, but they were also both descended from the old princes of Deheubarth. Was this to be a re-birth of those days; was Glyndwr to be a new, more national, version of Hywel Dda?

As far as both Glyndwr and Llywelyn ap Morgan were concerned sadly not, although how popular Glyndwr actually was in Newport after his near-total destruction of the town and sacking of its castle, is open to debate. It is also hard to gauge exactly how supportive the Morgans actually were to Glyndwr, and how much of it was down to self-preservation. For example, did Llywelyn's home at Tredegar survive the Glyndwr assault on Newport?

There was no question about the aftermath, however: when Glyndwr's revolt failed, Llywelyn ap Morgan had his estate sequestrated. He had lost Tredegar.

Llywelyn was also a Juror in the Inquisition of Hugh Stafford in 1387, which pretty much proves that he had come of age by that time.

Married: Jennet, daughter of David Vaughan

Children (thought to have been eight of them in total) included:

Christy m. Madoc ap Ieuan of Gelligaer
Ann m. John ap Jenkin

Click to view previous Tredegar owners in this series:

4. Morgan ap Llywelyn d.1384
3. Ifor Hael of Gwern y Cleppa
2. Llywelyn ap Ifor and Angharad
1. Sir Morgan ap Maredudd d. c1331

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Saturday Morning Update

Just a quick update on things this Saturday morning:

You may notice that there is now a small advert just above this blog entry. I don't choose what this advert says, and it can seem rather random at times. On an automated system, it seems to pick up certain words from my blog, and then insert a 'themed' advert. This was fine when I was discussing the Morgan family, for a genealogy ad popped up; when discussing Ruperra, a conservation ad appeared, but following my post on the Morgan graves, the ad offered visitors to the blog the wonderful opportunity of being buried in a beautiful natural woodland!

Anyway, every time somebody clicks on the ad, it helps my blog. So, please feel free to show your support, by clicking away whenever something interesting catches your eye.

Other News:

We await further developments in the ongoing Ruperra Castle saga. I will try to keep you as fully updated as I can.

The latest entry in the Morgan family history will appear tomorrow, with Llywelyn ap Morgan of Tredegar.

And, last but certainly not least, Tredegar House is losing Lisa Jenkins. Lisa has worked in the general office for several years and is usually the first voice you hear when phoning the House. She will be greatly missed, because not only is she remarkably organised and efficient (she may giggle at that comment, but she really IS!) but she brought with her a sense of fun and was a joy to work with. She is going on to better things. She deserves it. I'm sure everyone wishes her all the very best in her new job.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ruperra Castle Latest

Ashraf Barakat has submitted plans for the re-development of Ruperra Castle to the Planning Department of Caerphilly County Borough Council.

It is thought that he is eager to convert the castle, and many of the outbuildings, into apartments. Does this mean that Ruperra Castle and the immediate grounds may become, like Cefn Mabli, something of a private 'compound'?

There is a meeting next week to discuss Mr Barakat's plans.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Morgan Graves (looking shabby?)

In tonight's South Wales Argus, Mike Buckingham writes of the current poor state of the graves of the Morgans of Tredegar at St Basil's Church, Bassaleg.

Hopefully something can be done to improve them.

The last time I was there was after a Spooky Tales Tour last year. A group of us had retired for a drink at the Tredegar Arms next door, to mull over the evening. After chatting about the Morgans for a bit, somebody suggested (I forget who, but it sounds like a suspiciously Goff Morgan-ish idea) that we actually pay them a visit, seeing as we were in the neighbourhood. And so, by the light of a mobile phone, our small intrepid band headed into the pitch black graveyard to find the resting place of many of the later members of that colourful dynasty.

Slightly away from the main plot of Morgans (there were so many buried there that the Tredegar family vault was full by the 1920s) , are the graves of a father and daughter. It was quite poignant, and somehow fitting, to find, side-by-side, the graves of Courtenay Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, and his only daughter Gwyneth (who drowned in the Thames in December 1924).

I had been studying the sad case of Lord Tredegar's daughter only a few weeks before and it had been the first time I had visited her grave. I had heard all about the great tensions between father and daughter, and of how scandal had been heaped upon the Morgan name by her connections with some rather shady characters from the Limehouse region of London. If there was anything that Courtenay hated it was scandal. The death of Gwyneth, deeply affected him, however, and probably accelerated his own physical decline.

Originally Gwyneth had been buried at Putney Vale Cemetery, near Wimbledon, and it was only on the insistence of her brother, Evan, that her body was brought back home, and re-buried at St Basil's.

I am sure that Courtenay would be pleased that he is now at rest so close to his daughter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

All talked out!

The talk seemed to be quite successful (despite me rambling on far longer than I intended), and the turnout was very good. It was the first time I had spoken (or even been to) the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, and I was very impressed by it. At the end, Lord Raglan gave the vote of thanks (and recounted the story of an Italian friend of Evan's who was so fond of her pet leopard, that when it died, she had it turned into a hat and, literally, leopard-skin trousers!). He had actually had lunch at Tredegar House when a boy before the war, and although he couldn't remember much about Evan, he remembered 'the macaws' and other exotic birds that called Tredegar home.

He also had lunch with Evan's cousin, John Morgan (the last Lord Tredegar) in 1950, and he got the impression, very firmly, that John was intent on staying at the ancestral home.

This will all be explored in far greater detail in the future. I shall start to kick-on with the brief Morgan biographies and will be posting far more regular updates. 'Llywelyn ap Morgan' will appear very shortly.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

South Wales Argus article

Ticket sales seem to be going quite well for the Evan Morgan talk at the National Museum of Wales, this Saturday (25 Feb, 10.45am start); in an attempt to generate interest in the talk, and to provide some publicity for the forthcoming biography of Evan, the following article appeared in the South Wales Argus last week:

Paul Plumbs Life of Magic Master

by Mike Buckingham

South Wales Argus. Friday February 17, 2006

The ghost of Evan Morgan, the last Viscount Tredegar, still haunts the stately home bearing his titled name.

"Sometimes when I'm alone here I have a feeling that Evan, with his tall, angular body and beak of a nose that made him look like one of the birds he loved so much, is going to appear." Paul Busby says.

"I often find myself looking at portraits of Evan, who was undoubtedlythe most eccentric of the Morgan family, and thinking, 'I wonder what you were really like.'

"The answer is that he was a Walter Mitty character, a man who wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest, a novelist, painter, journalist and poet. Evan was at the centre of the bohemian network that included Augustus John and Dylan Thomas, H.G. Wells and the infamous satanist Aleister Crowley, and himself took a deep interest in black magic.

"He has been condemned as the Morgan who frittered away the family fortune, but the real culprits were war and the Great Depression, death duties and the changing pattern of life."

Paul Busby's storehouse of knowledge about the Morgan dynasty, and Evan in particular, will be unlocked before an audience at the Reardon Smith Theatre, which is part of the National Museum in Cardiff, on February 25.

"Most people in Gwent know something about Sir Charles and Godfrey Morgan, who were the benefactors of modern Newport and of a lineage going back to 1290. Evan, the last viscount, is completely different from his hunting, shooting and fishing forebears and undoubtedly took some of his eccentricity from his mother, Katherine.

"Godfrey Wynn, the journalist, used to tell of how, after dinner, Katherine would summon a footman who would appear with a tray filledwith moss and hair and bits of twig and begin to assemble birds' nests. When finished, she would put the nests up in trees. She also built a nest for herself and held court from it."

An obsession with the Morgans stole upon Newport-born Paul, 27, quite slowly. "While at St Joseph's School I used to play football and cricket inthe grounds of Tredegar House without setting foot in it. It was when I got a summer job as a guide that my interest really took off. After Plymouth University, where I read history, I was drawn back to the house and into a deep fascination with Evan and the other Morgans.

"Evan, who became Lord Tredegar in 1934, was, according to his friend Aldous Huxley, a 'poet, painter, musician, aristocrat and millionaire, the fairy prince of modern life.'

"He was certainly capable of the most extraordinary things. As late as the 1930s he brought back powdered wigs for his footmen and, at a party for the Princess Royal, engaged four footmen with the names Mr North, Mr South, Mr East and Mr West."

His poetry is dreadful. He wrote a novel entitled 'Trial by Ordeal', the best review of which said, 'this is a very dull book.'"

By the very nature of its contents Paul Busby's planned biography of Evan is unlikely to be anything other than spellbinding.

"Evan Morgan wasn't on the edges of the bohemian world of the 20sand 30s, he was right in the thick of it. One thing he could do really well was to tame birds. Tredegar House was at one time full of exotic birds and animals, including a parrot that habitually attacked HG Wells.

"Evan was charismatic, eccentric, totally unpredictable and a fantasist. If you wanted to know anything about Evan Morgan, the last person to ask was Evan Morgan."

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Tunnel at Tredegar?

There are always tall tales connected to historic places. One of my favourites involves the fireplace in the Gilt Room. It was said that the gaping mouths of the two gilded gargoyles flanking the fireplace used to have tongues. If the tongues of both were pulled at the same time, the fireplace would spin around to reveal a tunnel. There was a little debate as to where this tunnel led: I have heard it stated that it stretched to the banks of the River Usk for smuggling; an even wilder tale had it stretching all the way to the second Morgan home in South Wales, Ruperra Castle!

Sadly, this is all gilded balderdash. If you stand in the Cedar Garden you can actually see the back of the Gilt Room fireplace jutting out, and nobody has ever found any evidence of a tunnel. Ah well.

But what if there really was a tunnel at Tredegar House? What if the cellars contained more than barrels of beer and bottles of wine? The new 'Unexplored Tredegar' tours will dig into this theory further. We will present the evidence (such as it is), and the visitor can make up their own mind. Of course a survey (anybody got a handy geophysics machine lying around?) might put the matter beyond doubt.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Evan Morgan, Viscount Tredegar talk (25 Feb)

Perhaps the most colourful member of the Morgan family was Evan Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar. The last member of the line to live at Tredegar House, Evan lived a life of great eccentricity and adventure. His week-end house parties at Tredegar in the 1930s and 40s gained much local notoriety. Surrounded by a menagerie of pets (including a bear named 'Alice', an anteater, and the talented 'Somerset', a boxing kangaroo) Evan, often with his 'familiar', a mischievous macaw named 'Blue Boy' (see above) perched imperiously on one shoulder, entertained on a lavish scale. Among the many artistic, literary and society figures that enjoyed his princely hospitality at Tredegar House were HG Wells, Aldous Huxley, Augustus John, Nancy Cunard, Ivor Novello and the 'Great Beast' himself, the occultist Aleister Crowley.

I am giving an illustrated talk on Evan's life at 10:45am on Saturday 25 February, at the Reardon Smith Theatre in Cardiff for the Friends of the National Museum and Galleries of Wales. All guests are welcome and can pay on the door (tickets £5), so if you are interested in learning more about the life of one of South Wales' greatest eccentrics, please come along.

Friday, January 27, 2006

'Unexplored Tredegar'

I returned to Tredegar House yesterday for the first time since Christmas to find the place full of the song of whistling workmen, and scaffolding dominating the stairwell. The stairwell is being re-painted in Indian Yellow. The Best Chamber is also being re-painted, and it is only really when furniture is taken out of a room at Tredegar, that you can appreciate just how large the rooms are.

I have started working on an 'Unexplored Tredegar' tour, which is likely to be incorporated into the events programme for the new season. The tour will include the attics (servant's bedrooms), Linen Room, Nursery Wing, Cellars, Medieval Wing (above the Servant's Hall), The Stables, Baking Ovens, and will end in the Brewhouse where visitors can recover with a cream tea (which may be included in the tour price). It will give the public a chance to see parts of the House that they would not normally see.