“As long as we beat the English we don’t care !” (though we don’t want to be your enemy)

Tribal enmity arising………..  We move ever closer to the first of the major ‘cultural’ (read National pride at stake) event of the New Year.  Whereas the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod are ‘Welsh Love-ins’,  what’s on the horizon is definitely not.  Each year the National psyche changes from a rather moribund, inwardly reflective, dour (it’s the weather you know) sort of mood to one of heightened adrenalin.  The ghosts of Llewellyn and Glyndwr are evoked and leeks and daffodils emerge as de-riguer accoutrements to a predominantly RED attire – not forgetting the increasingly popular war-paint in the form of Cadwallader’s Dragon.  Wales readies itself for War.  The ‘Old Enemy’ – Y Seis, the English are coming !!

On Friday evening Feb 4, a battle Royal will occur in the National amphitheatre, the Millenium Stadium.  The Chorus to Henry V implores “A muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention,  a Kingdom for a stage, Princes to Act and Monarchs to behold the swelling scene” – we will have our Princes on parade – a future Monarch will no doubt behold a very swollen scene. “Oh may we cram within this wooden ‘O’ the very casks that did afright the air at Agincourt !” You bet, 70 thousand screaming Welshfolk (there will be the odd couple of thousand ‘enemy’ supporters, hopefully they will be silenced) out of their heads on Brains and Hwyl baying for English blood – they had better be ready to “close up the wall with [their] English dead”.

The ‘Six Nations’ rugby championship kicks off with the real ‘Test’.  The Celtic nations LOVE to beat the English.  Some years ago one of Wales’ famous Mr Joneses (not Tom, Mr K Jones of Stereophonics fame)wrote a little ditty for the TV pre-ad, “As long as we beat the English we don’t care” recognised that whilst we don’t WANT to lose to Scotland, Ireland, France or Italy, we really MUST beat the English (strangely enough all the others feel the same !).  Rugby is the heartbeat of the Nation, it is well recognised that IF we beat England on the weekend, economic productivity soars in the following week, such are the positive vibes that flows through everyone born with “Music in their Soul”.  For the next two months Rugby and results displaces all other matters of importance, weather, economy, unemployment, soccer, war, in fact all else fades into insignificance, believe me, Super Bowl has nothing on what happens in Wales in February and early March.

The National dislike of the English is of course historical and political.  We, the Welsh, have since the middle of the C16th, been conjoined with England – the Scots managed to stay disconnected somewhat longer alas not the Irish.  But although English government in all its forms pervades the Nation there exists an antipathy, of varying degree, towards our close neighbours.  Make no mistake, there is a serious and vociferous ‘anti-English’ mentality throughout much of the Principality (the very word shows our subjugation !) but for most of us we take a more convivial approach.  Not everyone can be born Welsh and we shouldn’t judge people by their birth place.  I am one of thousands of Welsh people who have spent time in England and I count, amongst some dear friends, many fine English folk.  Lord, I even married one !

Hence my Welsh speaking daughters (two of whom live in the English Capital) could, if they so wished, claim dual nationality.  Such an action is, umm, unlikely.  They, like me, will be screaming a shameful tirade of racist abuse at those wearing the white shirt and red rose of England and will attempt – as they sing their pathetic repost to our musical proclamations of Hiraeth – to drown out the rattling wheels of their low swung chariot.  By 10 o’clock next Friday night it will all be over and we will revert to our peaceful side by side existence, until the World Cup in the autumn !!

The barrier between Wales and England, the border country, has been, for tens of centuries, a troubled land.  Even before the arrival of the Italians (soldiers not rugby players or ice-cream making cafe owners) the tribal boundaries of the Silures, the Ordivices, the Deceangli (in what is now Wales) and the Cornavii and Dobuni were established and defended.  The hill forts can still be seen in prominent and strategic positions. The Romans carved up the old Iron age tribal areas and fought their way into Wales along the main river routes, the Wye, the Severn and the Dee.  However, in the middle of Wales no major river route existed and the area now known as Radnorshire, remained a turbulent zone.  In its midst lay an important pre-Roman settlement based around the Walton basin, east of the Radnor Forest hills and west of Kington on the route from Hereford and the Englsih midlands into central Wales.

Following the end of the Roman era Britain became a hotbed of tribal rivalries and territorial disputes.  By the C8th the ‘Welsh’ border had been pushed westwards out of what is now Shropshire and Herefordshire, and became established along its present day position.  To mark that boundary a great ‘dyke’ or bank (w –clawdde) was constructed from the coast near Prestatyn in the north, to the mouth of the Wye.  King Offa’s great dyke (757-96AD) is today extant over much of its route and has been way-marked as a long distance footpath.

I found myself having to cross that border this week on a journey into the English county of Herefordshire.  I was asked to give a price for building ‘some’ dry stone walls in a garden.

Classic timber framed buildings in an English village.

These oak framed buildings are 500 years or so old. They demonstrate two things above all else, a shortage of stone and a plethora of oak, the great Quercus Robur, the English Oak.

My route out of Wales is an ancient one, it follows the pre-historic trade route through the Walton basin, crosses Offa’s great ‘clawdde’ and squeezes through the Kington gap to emerge into the flat fertile plains of Herefordshire.

Now it is quite unusual to have stone walls in the flat-lands of  England.  Partly that is due to the lack of stone but more relevant is the history of land management which saw the large open fields of the ‘Champion’ regions remain, to a great extent, through and beyond the  periods of enclosure.  The large open fields were historically divided into strips, with each farmer in the township or manor having several strips in each of the (usually three, sometimes four) open fields.  This required a co-operative system of farming as each adjoining strip needed to be growing a similar crop.  It was useless for one to grow corn whilst the neighbour tried to run cattle !  Each strip was a ‘furlong’ or furrow length – the most suitable length to operate the oxen teams and large wooden plough – and the distance between strips and fields was extensive. The homes or farmsteads were spread out in what is known as a dispersed pattern, throughout the township; a man walked a long way in a day !  When the Normans arrived they changed this age-old system and instead of dispersed farmsteads they laid out new villages into which were brought the farms of the area.  This system of ‘nucleated’ villages had each farmer’s land ring-fenced immediately beyond his farm yard.  The Normans imposed this system wherever they encountered fertile land and nucleated villages, with large farmsteads along the main street, can be found in Wales as well as England still today.

Old Tudor farmsteads in Pembridge.

This Tudor farmstead is one of several which still line the mainstreet of the little Herefordshire village of Pembridge, albeit they have long since become bijout residences and the barns and cow houses converted for people to live in. Nevertheless they show clearly the laid out pattern of a Norman 'planted' nucleated village.

Pembridge is a typical ‘quaint’ English village, the old crooked timber frame houses (at one time farms and shops whose frontages were set at a ‘perch’ distance and were backed by long strips of garden, called burgage plots) line the main street and the narrow side roads.  It is laid out in a grid pattern around the market and is a featured village on a tourist trail emphasising the ‘black and white’ nature of the buildings.

Most folk just look at the quirky buildings and soft pastel colours of the traditional lime wash through nostalgically tinted eyes without considering what a nightmare they are to live in ! Especially if the top of your head is more than 5 feet above the floor ….

I was on my way to a farm near Eardisley, itself another nucleated village though somewhat more developed and interdicted with modern dwellings.  The farmer has retired and he and his wife had decided to do the usual; sell the land, convert the buildings and build a ‘barrier’ between themselves and their new neighbours whose money they had gleefully grabbed but whose company they were less excited about.  This is a common trend, unfortunately in my view, which has seen many lovely old farmsteads with courtyards turned into mini ‘gated’ communities.  I have little sympathy for owners who sell their buildings for outrageously high sums (well beyond anything local young folk could afford) to outsiders and then bemoan the dilution of their community and the loss of their privacy.  It happens all too often in Wales as well, greedy land-owners selling to the rich incomers and then groaning at the loss of the language and culture.

Oak timbers form the market hall in Pembridge.

This beautiful carved oak market hall stands in the centre of old Pembridge; today wooden picnic benches replace the tables of farmer's wives and hawkers who for centuries sold their produce and wares from under these ancient roof timbers.

From somewhere the farmer had amassed a large (when I say ‘large’ think sufficient to build Hereford cathedral !) pile of  rather nice sandstone.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted but was happy for me to come up with some designs and to use all the stone – 20 years too late old boy !

So, even though I will be happily offending my English neighbours on Friday,  I will swallow my pride and condescend to build this Englishman a curtain wall to protect his Castle, gosh, I’ll even accept payment in English pounds !

If my designs are favourably received, and my price is acceptable (I know I am always ‘cheap’ to English eyes – they are used to a decimal point further to the right than I usually place it)  I will no doubt give you a preview and an account of the project as it proceeds.

As I was ‘out and about’ in an area I enjoy I decided to drive on and visit some favourite antique emporiums I know well.  The town of Leominster (pronounced Lemster not Leo Minster !) sits on the main north / south route from Chester, via Shrewsbury, to Hereford and on to Gloucester, all important Roman civitas centres.  It is a medium sized market town and has developed a niche as a centre for antiques.

Is this enough stone ?

'Do you think you have enough to do some garden walls ?" he says. Well I think there just might be Mr Farmer, there just might be....

So having indulged my OCD stone habit I headed into the town to indulge my other passion for farm history.  There is a rather good ‘salvage’ yard which often has some unusual farmobilia although the guy who runs it thinks he is on the King’s Road when it comes to his pricing policy.  I find it interesting to look at the architectural salvage that he acquires, often it is medieval ecclesiatical carved stonework such as corbels and gargoyles.

An interesting if expensive lot of architectural salvage.

Thankfully I am not into gardening or garden architecture, it's just too damned expensive.

There are always some significant historical items from our (actually ‘their’ English farming past) agricultural heritage such as cider presses which command upwards of £3,000 !  My eyes were drawn, unsurprisingly, to three wooden wheeled hand carts.  They were in good condition and were inscribed ‘Chatsworth Estate’.  How they ended up in Leominster I was unable to discover, they were outrageously priced for what they were – £900 – and will remain there rotting away like several others he has had for many years (one of which I tried to buy ten years or so ago but he was asking £350 for something that was really a £50-60 purchase, it now lies rotten and collapsed, beyond salvage).  Also I don’t know why Chatsworth let them go, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire will be displeased when I tell them that a part of the estate’s history is sitting unloved in a salvage yard in Leominster !  The great edifice of Chatsworth House is beyond doubt one of Britain’s finest legacies, internally and externally it is a cornucopia of treasures.

Last year me and my staff (aka Pili Pala Brown) had our Christmas ‘do’ there.  A candlelit tour of the house accompanied by carols, wine and mince pies, followed by some shopping in the ‘oh so Christmassy’ retail store was followed by the most amazing Christmas dinner in the dimly lit, superbly converted stables.  It even snowed, we spent the night surrounded by Brad Pitt in an hotel of film memorabilia which marketed itself as having the greatest selection of breakfast cereals – bizarre in the extreme !

C19th Hand Carts belonging to Chatsworth House.

If they had been reasonably priced I would have 'saved' them, but even these Chatsworth relics were not worth what the greedy Englishman was asking.

I am going to follow up on them – maybe they should go back – but I was interested in what they had been used for; internally they had various pockets and frames that showed a purposeful intent.

What was the intended use of these carts ?

The internal fitments are puzzling, I have no idea what they were designed to hold.

It's what it says on the box !

There were a few items of small hand tools I could have bought but once again, when I enquired, his price was bonkers, I just looked at him, smiled my ‘up yours pal’ smile and walked away.

I did however find a couple of items to add to the collection in two antique centres in the town, and spent a maximum of £8 each – mind you there were a couple of items that I could have grabbed had I had the cash !  I noted that the prices being asked for two items I have in my collection (acquired gratuit) relating to the illegal taking of river fish, were marked up at over £300 each !  Oh yes, do you remember the Rush Lights I mentioned some time ago ?  There were two available, the cheapest at £425 !!  Oh well….

Staddle stones, expensive relics indeed.

These Staddle Stones were once used to hold wooden frames on which corn ricks were built, safe from rats and mice. Today they are THE sought after relic commanding prices over £400 each - bang goes my hopes of demonstrating the art at a future festival, each rick needed up to 8 staddles. !

I enjoyed my little sojourn ‘behind enemy lines’, I entered covertly and left un-noticed(that is the speed cameras didn’t blink at me !),  I brought back some ‘trophies’ and photographs which will provide useful intelligence in my attempt to unlock the mystery of the Chatsworth carts – clearly I will need to go see the Duchess in the not too distant future !

Other than that Welshwaller has had a quiet week, paper work has been necessarily occupying my mind and time – how did I survive on such a small income !  But honestly, Mr Taxman, I did !

I feel I should end this week with an apology:  Clearly my use of Abraham Lincoln’s “Sometimes I sit……. “etc, has caused some issues, it has been continually ‘hit’ this last week to the tune of over 30 times a day – my guess is that some school or college States-side has set a question to its students – “Sometimes I sits and think, sometimes I just sits” Discuss !! – sorry Guys, the intellectual application of the great man’s words within my literary ramblings could hardly fail but to have UNIMPRESSED YOU !  My old friend Rigarth Piglow used to say

“I think therefore I AM, or in MY case….. I’m pink therefore I’m Spam !!  Think on that while you eagerly await more from the hills and vales of a Triumphant Wales !

Come on Wales !  Cymru am Byth !!


3 Responses to ““As long as we beat the English we don’t care !” (though we don’t want to be your enemy)”

  1. welshwaller Says:

    ‘Hangman’ !!?? I’ve made it ! Skool tort me to rite an now I is faymus !!

  2. Maragret Mclagan Says:

    I’m often to running a blog and i actually respect your content. The article has actually peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and maintain checking for brand spanking new information.

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