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.