I shot the Sheriff but I did not shoot the Deputy …

Sometimes a Man’s gotta do what a Man’s gotta do; walk the walk, bite the bullet, face his own   ‘OK Corral’.  In my case more a ‘Doc Holliday’ persona than Wyatt himself.  Nevertheless, Welshwaller has met the challenge put before him this last week, and come out without any wounds, just the odd scar.

As a Welshman I carry the heavy burden of a history of repression and the even greater burden of optimism.  Hope for what, however, has long since faded from memory,  I mostly forget that I’m supposed to be an angry insurrectionist fighting against English overlordship.  I mostly reserve such animosity for the annual rugby international against ‘The Old Foe’. In 1536 the ageless battles for supremacy gave way to a tacit agreement to forego killing each other in order to start sharing the spoils of peace and inter-marriage.  The rule of the Marcher Lords over the disputed territory that formed the ever shifting border between England and Wales ceased, or apparently it did.

Why then did I find myself invited to the ceremony to mark the appointment of the new High Sheriff of Powys ?! Powys, that most ancient and famous Kingdom of Walia which even the good old Italians found difficult to suppress, is still, or so it would seem, under the direct control of the English Sovereign !!  Well I never … With not a little shake of the head and a look skyward to apologies to the ancestors, I duly accepted the invitation.  Friendship and courtesy comes before personal politics as pride comes before a fall.  There are but few English Gentleman who deserve my allegiance, the new High Sheriff of Powys stands tall in a short line.  And so it was, on a Friday afternoon in early April – oh that it could have been April 1st – I found myself amongst the great and good who gathered at the unique and enlightening Willow Globe Theatre, the home of Shakespeare Link in Llanwrthwl between Newbridge-on-Wye and Rhayader (shakespearelink.co.uk). It is a place that has featured often in these pages, a place where much repairing of walls and construction of interesting features has occurred as well as some interesting antics by owners of vintage Austin 7 motor cars.

It takes a great deal of will-power for me to open the wardrobe in which resides several suits of indeterminate age.  It takes even more will-power to hold my tummy in sufficiently long enough to fasten my trews, as for trying to shrink my neck to a smaller size, that I find increasingly difficult… There are several dozen shirts which seem inexplicably to have shrunken…  As for my clothes being suitable for today’s fashion, I needn’t have worried…

“Be suspicious of any enterprise that requires the wearing of fancy dress”

Waller and Sheriff

Wondering exactly why HE is standing next to a dry stone waller…. the newly appointed High Sheriff of Powys realises early on that he has to mix with everyone !

The role of the Sheriff is an historic one, going back to a pre-Norman time when the Reave of the Lord collected the taxes and ensured ‘herriot’ dues were made.  The organisation of  Shires in the Norman period saw the role of the ‘Shire Reave’ expanded to one of almost absolute power and control over the communities under his thumb – we all remember that awful villain, the Sheriff of Nottingham don’t we !

The 474th High Sheriff has a slightly less onerous task, merely to support the Sovereign if she decides to come visit, welcome the Judges when they wander around the Assize Courts (I thought they had disappeared too !) and generally do good and support charitable intents in the county.  Fortunately the fancy dress doesn’t have to make regular appearances …

The event was a real celebration of history and local tradition, the ‘high table’ joined in the fun with even His Honour Judge Mark Furness laughing at his own ‘fancy dress’.

sherif 006

 

The party included the local vicar and the Lord Lieutenant of Powys, the Hon. Shan Legge-Burke (the primrose clad lady) for whom, just that very week, I was repairing a wall at her home, Glanusk near Crickhowell.  Oh yes, Welshwaller is not always in the mud and wild hills of mid-Wales !

The ceremony consisted of a number of highlights which combined to make the whole event memorable.  The Welsh costumed children of the local Nantmel school, the High Table, the very eclectic specially invited audience and finally a bunch of interlopers who almost stole the show !

Daughters of Rebecca at the High Sheriff's table

Through the Willow Globe, the High Table look on in fear as the rebellious Daughters of Rebecca proclaim their intentions for the forthcoming year.

The Rebecca Riots of the early nineteenth century were the culmination of a growing frustration and anger amongst the farming community of rural Wales at increased taxation and the state of agriculture.  In particular there was a groundswell of radicalism which boiled over into attacks on the hated Toll Gates.  Those gates were placed at strategic points on important communication routes leading from the rural farming communities to their markets and their supplies.  The charges imposed were supposed to pay for drastic improvements to the terrible roads which criss-crossed the land.  Charges were deemed unfair, not least as little improvement was forthcoming, and night-time attacks began on the gates.  Burning was a common tactic but so too was smashing and dismantling them, attacking the Toll Gate houses in which the gate-keeper lived was usual, sometimes even the gate-keeper himself was assaulted.  In fact a girl, Sarah Williams, who kept a gate in the village of Hendy in west Glamorgan, was shot and killed during an attack on her gate and toll house on the 7th September 1843.

To disguise themselves the rioters took to dressing as women and assumed the title of Daughters of Rebecca.  I find myself wondering how under-fed those men were or how over-fed were their women …  The name of Rebecca (Rebeka) comes from the Old Testament (Genesis 24:60)

‘And they blessed Rebeka and said unto her “Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them” ‘. 

The Radnorshire gangs continued long after the rest of Wales had settled down – and even after many of the Daughters had been deported – but on a different gripe.  Right through the latter half of the nineteenth century and as late as 1930, the rampaging cross-dressers carried out attacks in protest at the Fishery Laws which deprived them of long held rights to take fish from rivers and streams.  One of the protests involved nailing smelly salmon to church doors !

 

 

High Sheriff and Rebecca rioters with Judge

Daughters of Rebecca face His Honour and the Sheriff referees… a truce was agreed

A covern of Daughters burst upon the scene and made a proclamation (which was historical and hysterical) in which they agreed to forego their activities for the year of office of the new High Sheriff.  They promised too not to poach salmon from the pools of the Lord Lieutenant on her Glanusk waters, they agreed to cease nailing the stinking fish to the church door of the local churches, much to the relief of the Vicar.

It was an amusing and erstwhile interjection and was a superb antidote to the solemnity of the declarations and promises of the Judge and Sheriff.  It appears that two of the Daughters had actual ancestors who were known Radnorshire Rioters.  You couldn’t have scripted it, well, Shakespeare probably could have and would certainly have approved of the performance in his very own Willow Globe on the lands of the former Marcher Lords.

The Honourable gathering to bear witness to the declaration of the new High Sheriff of Powys, my friend Phillip Bowen Esq.

The Honourable gathering to bear witness to the declaration of the new High Sheriff of Powys, my friend Phillip Bowen Esq.

So for the next twelve months an honourable thespian of some repute takes Overlordship in the lands of the Ordovices.  ‘Pricked Well’ by Her Majesty Liz 2 using a bobbin – a long held practise which hitherto prevented any erasing of a mark placed next to a nominee’s name on the vellum parchment on which the list of suggested names were written – he commands my respect, not least because he has achieved something I have miserably failed in, learning the language of heaven and my forgiveness for his annoying habit of parading around Penlanole in an English cricket sweater.

I too do pledge that I will refrain from any harassment of  the High Sheriff in respect of his proclivities, just as long as he continues to ply me with his usual excellent standard of wine and attends the annual Beulah Show along with his dear wife Sue and the Series one Land Rover – on which we’ll find a way of attaching the pennant of the High Sheriff of Powys !

 

Forsooth, the burden of office is already weighing heavily, the High Sheriff is shrinking ...

Forsooth, the burden of office is already weighing heavily, the High Sheriff is shrinking …

And so it came to pass that poor lowly Welshwaller was present at the ceremony to appoint the new High Sheriff of Powys, he got to sing aloud the Welsh National Anthem in an English theatre and wash down cucumber sandwiches sans crusts with a rather good bubbly whilst being sweet- talked by a couple of ‘Honourable’ ladies in need of his special expertise …

‘The Life of a Waller is terribly phoney …”

 

 

 

 

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