Tagged with: Past master

Posts (10)

  1. It's a sad fact that the good, old fashioned public house was, for many years, far less public than most of us ever imagined. Many Welsh pubs used to have 'Men Only' bars Half of the population of Britain was actually banned from many of these establishments, purely on the grounds of ...

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  2. It's a sad fact that upwards of 30 public houses are closing down every week in Britain. Other countries might have their taverns, beer halls or bars but the humble British pub has always been something of an institution, an establishment unique to this country. Every town or villag...

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  3. In the year 1847 the British government commissioned a report into the state of education in Wales. Not, in itself, such a momentous event, but when the remit of the report was widened to include a study of the morals of the Welsh people it resulted in a furore that still rumbles on to this very day. Never can a civil service document have excited such passion as the 1847 Report of the Commissioners of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales (780kb pdf file). Blue books The report, known throughout Wales as the Treason of the Blue Books (all government reports being bound in blue covers), was the result of a motion put forward a year earlier by William Williams, the Welsh MP for Coventry. He was particularly concerned about the lack of opportunity for poor children in his homeland to gain knowledge of the English language. Kay-Shuttleworth, secretary to the Council on Education, wrote the terms of reference for the Enquiry in October 1846 and it is clear, right from the beginning, that education was only one of the government's concerns. From the 1820s to the late 1840s Wales had appeared to be the centre of major discontentment. In the 1820s there had been serious disturbances in Tredegar and Merthyr while in Ceridigion there had been a virtual war over the issue of land enclosures. From 1839 to the mid 1840s the the Rebecca Riots caused mayhem across mid and south Wales while in 1939 the Chartist march on Newport provoked huge worry and concerns in government circles. Clearly Wales needed to be looked at in some detail and to English officials and civil servants it seemed highly likely that, in the far west, sedition was being planned - in the Welsh language. There is no doubt that education for poor children in Wales was inadequate - it was also inadequate in England! There was desperate requirement for quality education for all, education that would, the government felt - long before the commissioners reported back - be predominantly in the English language. And central to this was the need to provide trained teachers. The trouble came when the extra clause was slipped into the terms of reference, to look at the morals and behaviour of the Welsh people. Quite why this was inserted is not clear - certainly it could have little impact on the educational element of the report who could and would educate their charges efficiently. Since the predominance of Welsh was one of the main reasons for the report it would have been reasonable to expect the commissioners appointed to oversee the inspections to have a knowledge of the Welsh tongue. Not so. Commissioners Lingen, Simons and Vaughan Johnson spoke no Welsh, were not even educationalists and, importantly, had no experience of the type of fervent non-conformity to be found in Wales. A number of assistant commissioners were appointed and, by and large, these were the men who toured the schools, towns and villages. The questions they asked, the passages of literature (usually the Bible) they required children to read and the problems that were meant to worked out in the head of each child were framed in English - many of the school teachers had difficulty understanding them, let alone their pupils. While the non-conformist Sunday Schools - where education was offered in Welsh - were, in the main, praised in the report, the ordinary day schools were certainly not. It was hardly surprising when pupils were expected to work out subtraction problems such as "Take 1799 from 2471," in their heads, with an answer expected within a few seconds. And the condition of the schools themselves was under equal scrutiny: "The school is held in the mistresses house. I shall never forget the hot sickening smell which struck me on opening the door of that low, dark room in which 30 girls and 20 boys were huddled together." But there were other issues of concern for the commissioners. They had also been charged with making a study of the moral state of the country and it was a task they were happy to carry out. When looking at the morals of the nation the Anglican vicars, many of whom felt isolated and apart from the parish in which they lived, were quite content to help out with comments that were little more than a little condemnatory: It is difficult... to describe in proper terms the state of the common people of Wales in the intercourse of the sexes. I believe the proportion of illegitimate children to the population in Anglesey, with only one exception, and that is also in Wales, exceeds that in any other county in the kingdom." When the report was published it was scathing and sweeping in its findings. Welsh children were poorly educated, poorly taught and had little or no understanding of the English language. They were ignorant, dirty and badly motivated. Welsh women were not just lax in their morals - many of them being late home from chapel meetings! - they were also non-conformist lax. To reinforce the power of the established church and to make English the required mode of teaching and expression in schools is the main thrust of the report. Howls of protest were to be expected - and they duly came. Yet the sobriquet "Treason of the Blue Books" did not come into popular usage until seven years later when Robert Jones Derfel wrote a play called Brad y Llyfrau Gleision, or, in English, The Treason of the Blue Books. Derfel's play opens in Hell where the Devil decides that the Welsh people are too good and are becoming more godly by the hour thanks to the influence of non-conformity. He promptly hatches a plan to bring down this pure and godly people. The play has shaped the opinions of many, even at this late stage. Many people believe the findings of the enquiry had been more or less decided before the commissioners even began their work. One thing is clear, however. The report gives us a fascinating snapshot of life in the 1840s and for a brief while, at least, it did manage to put education high on the political agenda. Ultimately, however, the Treason of the Blue Books helped to create a view, a rather smirking and disrespectful view, of Welsh morals that has lasted until the 21st century. Publication of The Report of the Commissioners of Enquiry remains one of the most important moments in Welsh history, and it is questionable whether or not the Welsh language has yet managed to break free from the disapproval of the commissioners. Phil Carradice investigates how Victorian Wales was scandalised by a government report into its schools and sexual morals in Blue Books and Red Faces on this week's episode of Past Master on Sunday 23 January at 5.30pm.

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  4. There has always been something of a debate about the Anglo-Zulu Wars of 1879, particularly with regard to the numbers of Welsh soldiers involved in the Battle of Isandlwana and at the defense of Rorke's Drift. Battlefield at Isandlwana. Photo by Trudy Carradice. Often legend and roma...

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  5. The summer of 1715. The Old Pretender is about to land with his army in Scotland, rallying supporters of the Stuart cause to his flag. George I and the whole Hanoverian dynasty appear to be resting on the edge of disaster. Discontent is rife everywhere and in the north Wales town of Wrexham, a...

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  6. Wales is certainly not lacking when it comes to stories and tales of kings or great warriors. From the mythological heroes of the Mabinogion, where legend mixes easily with reality, to genuine historical figures like the Lord Rhys or Llywelyn the Great, there are so many to choose from. Yet one ...

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  7. Of all the great characters in Welsh history - and there are many - none is more unusual, more fascinating and more downright bizarre than Evan Morgan, the last Viscount Tredegar. Evan succeeded to the title in 1934 but by then his reputation for outlandish behaviour had been well established. Born in 1893, by the beginning of the First World War Evan Morgan was abroad in society. Over the next 30 years he created the myth of wildness and extravagance that has lasted until today. A poor poet and painter, he was nevertheless adviser on art to the Royal Family. He dabbled on the artistic fringes of society and Queen Mary referred to him as her favourite bohemian. He was also something of a favourite with Lloyd George and was a great influence on Brendan Bracken, Churchill's right hand man. Those were the more acceptable sides to his character and behaviour. At his palatial Tredegar House, just on the edge of Newport, he kept a menagerie of wild animals, including a boxing kangaroo and whole flocks of birds that easily and effortlessly did his bidding. More often than not the animals lived inside the house rather than outside. His friends included writers like Aldous Huxley and GK Chesterton, artists such as Augustus John and, above all, the great 'black magician' Aleister Crowley. Known as 'the Black Monk', Evan was an expert in the occult and even built himself a 'magik room' - the spelling was deliberate - at Tredegar House. Crowley visited him many times, and declared the room the best equipped he had ever seen. Crowley, known throughout Europe as the 'Great Beast', took part in many weird and perhaps terrifying rituals at Tredegar Park and christened Evan 'adept of adepts'. Sometimes those rituals frightened even Crowley. During the Second World War Evan was a high ranking officer in MI8, his particular responsibility being the monitoring of carrier pigeons. When he foolishly and carelessly let slip the departmental secrets - to two girl guides, would you believe - Evan was court martialled and was lucky to get away without a term of imprisonment, or even the firing squad. In retaliation Evan Morgan called Aleister Crowley to Tredegar House to take part in a cursing ritual on his commanding officer. Whatever Evan said or did it frightened Crowley so much that he left before the process was complete. And, amazingly, Evan's CO soon contracted some mysterious illness and nearly died! Despite his openly acknowledged homosexuality Evan was twice married, to actress Lois Sturt and to the Russian Princess Olga Dolgorouky. Neither marriage was a success and Evan continued to flaunt and entertain his male lovers in hotel bedrooms across Europe. As if that was not enough, he was able to put his obsession with the occult on hold for a short period while he converted to Catholicism, becoming Chamberlain to Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI. He went to study at the English College in Rome - although the amount of studying he did was limited in the extreme - and was soon a well known figure around Rome, driving through the city in a Rolls Royce that had a portable altar in the back. The stories of Evan Morgan's behaviour are legend but perhaps the most mysterious and intriguing episode in his life came in 1932. That year he was invited to a small private dinner and meeting at a restaurant in Bad Wiesse, just outside Munich. Nothing unusual in that, you might say - except that you then look at the other guests. They included Rudolph Hess, the deputy of what was fast becoming the most significant political party in Germany, right wing British artist Sir Francis Rose, Ernst Rohm - head of Hitler's SA or Brownshirts - and his deputy Edmund Heines. What was discussed at the meeting will never be known but all of the diners were ferociously right wing in their politics. Many of them were gay and a large number were fascinated by the occult. This was the period just before Hitler came to power and it would not be stretching things too far to suggest that the emergent Nazi party was trying to find out how things were run in Britain, perhaps by courting one of the wealthiest aristocrats in the country. Evan Morgan continued to maintain distant links with the Nazis. Some years later Herman Göring was on the Isle of Capri for a meeting with Italian dictator Mussolini. In the room next door was Evan Morgan. Evan's parrot, a bird that used to sit obediently on his shoulder as he walked around, apparently bit Goring on the nose - much to the displeasure of the portly German. During the war, after he had parachuted into Britain in an attempt to end the conflict, Rudolph Hess was imprisoned at Abergavenny, not too many miles distant from Tredegar House. If Hess and Evan knew each other - however slightly - they would surely have met. Hess might even have come to Tredegar House as he was given a fair degree of freedom and latitude to journey around eastern Wales. Was Evan Morgan one of the people Hess was hoping to use as an intermediary in his bid to end hostilities? It is a fascinating speculation. Unfortunately, it will remain just speculation. Like so much that went on in his life, we will never know what was really going on in the mind of Evan Morgan. He remains one of Wales' greatest and most memorable eccentrics. Listen to the story of Evan Morgan and that meeting in Munich on The Past Master, the BBC Wales history programme, broadcast on Sunday 2 January 2011 at 5.30pm.

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  8. There's another chance to listen to Past Master on BBC Radio Wales over the coming weeks. Presenter and BBC Wales History blogger, Phil Carradice delves into the famous and not-so-famous happenings and events in the history of Wales. Listen again online as Phil explores the remarkable life o...

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  9. Stories about witches are found all over the world - during the 16th and 17th centuries a "witch craze" in Europe saw over 100,000 people, mainly women, accused of witchcraft and executed by secular government and the church. Yet there were relatively few witch trials in Wales, with only five W...

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  10. These days we live in a world of investigative journalism - much of it not very palatable. But back in the 1930s, when the term hadn't even been invented, one Welshman used his pen to expose what was, in effect, a holocaust of major proportions. The man in question was Gareth Jones, a young journalist from Barry, and the manmade disaster he wrote about was the famine in the Ukraine. Gareth Jones reading. (Image provided by www.margaretcolley.co.uk)

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