Archives for June 2011

Catch up with developments at Llanelly House on the Roy Noble show

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 30 June 2011

This afternoon on BBC Radio Wales, Lisa Bancroft, Development Manager at Llanelly House in Carmarthenshire, joins Roy Noble to chat about the incredible restoration work that this 18th century, Grade I listed Georgian house has undergone.

Llanelly House will open in 2012 as a community heritage centre

The house is the former home of the Stepney family. Built in 1714 by Thomas Stepney, MP for Carmarthenshire, the house's Roman style is an example of the ultra-fashionable architectural design of the time.

The renovated building is due to open to the public in 2012 as a community heritage centre.

BBC Wales History was lucky enough to take a sneaky peak around the building back in September 2010, as part of Open Doors initiative. You can read the blog here.

Lisa will be at the BBC Cymru Wales Roadshow in Llanelli this Sunday (3 July 2011), 10am - 4:30pm at Parc y Scarlets and would love to hear your memories and stories of Llanelly House and of the Llanelli area.

Listen to the Roy Noble Show, Thursday 30 September from 2pm on BBC Radio Wales.

Wales and the world's first passenger helicopter service

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 15:15 UK time, Wednesday, 29 June 2011

These days we regularly see helicopters flashing over head and think nothing more about it but in the immediate post-war days, helicopters were a rare sight in the skies above Britain.

So, it comes as something of a surprise to find that the world's first scheduled passenger helicopter service took place over Welsh air space.

On 1 June 1950, British European Airways, as they were then, began a daily helicopter service between Liverpool and Cardiff, stopping off at Wrexham to pick up passengers at a field, now occupied by Sainsbury's.

Helicopters, of sorts, had been developed long before before World War Two. Leonardo da Vinci had already drawn up plans for what he called "an aerial screw" and as early as1907, Jacques and Louis Bolguet had designed and built a gyro-plane.

The Germans produced the Focke-Wulf FW 61 in 1936 but it was not until six years later that Igor Sikorsky built an effective and efficient machine.

Development of the helicopter concept took time to gather momentum - the idea of lift and thrust being provided by one rotating blade being alien to most flyers!

The war also hindered development, so it was not until October 1949 that the first cargo service using helicopters (a mail service) was inaugurated in Los Angeles in California.

By 1950 BEA was extending and developing its services. So a helicopter service across the length of Wales, once the technology was in place, seemed like "a good idea." Helicopters, BEA thought, were the future of air travel.

Three helicopters were used on the route. They were Westland Sikorsky S51 machines and were capable of carrying three passengers as well as their baggage and a certain amount of cargo. The helicopters cruised at 85 miles per hour and the trip between Liverpool and Cardiff took one hour and 40 minutes.

The small number of passengers seems, now, to be ludicrous and prompts the question of how on earth BEA ever expected to make a profit on the service. The cost of the trip was £5.10 shillings for a return fare and the service was to operate three times daily.

John Lennon Airport

People could take a helicopter flight to Liverpool's Speke Airport (now John Lennon Airport)

Wrexham, in those far off days just after the war, was a fairly large industrial centre and the company decided that the helicopters would land, shortly after take off from Liverpool's Speke Airport (now the John Lennon Airport) to pick up any businessmen who wished to journey quickly to south Wales.

Hindsight is always the only exact science and, as might be expected, the service was not a success. There simply weren't the number of potential passengers. The route was flown for just under a year, closing in March 1951.

In that time only 219 passengers were carried. Perhaps the failure was a portent of things to come. Scheduled helicopter flights have never really been established, although there are plenty of private machines and commercial helicopter companies operating in the United Kingdom. Perhaps one day in the future...

The enterprise might have been short lived but it did at least give Wales another important first - the first helicopter passenger service in the world.

Dic Penderyn, the Welsh Martyr

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 10:58 UK time, Tuesday, 28 June 2011

In the early summer of 1831, many of the the towns and villages of industrial Wales were marked by political and social unrest.

Terrible working conditions in the mines and iron works of the country were made even worse by wage cuts and, in some cases, by the laying off of men as demand for iron and coal fell away.

Dic Penderyn's gravestone in Aberavon

Thanks to things like the hated truck shops (an arrangement in which employees are paid in commodities), food was always in short supply and now money was also a problem. Debts spiralled out of control as women sought to feed their families and men seemed helpless to solve the problem.

In Merthyr Tydfil there were serious riots in the streets and, on 3 June 1831, a mob ransacked the building in the town where court records of debt were being stored. In the eyes of those in charge this was not a spontaneous upsurge of emotion but a carefully planned and deliberate act.

In a desperate bid to restore order the authorities sent in a detachment from one of the Highland Regiments stationed at Brecon. When the soldiers fired into the unarmed crowd that had gathered outside the Castle Hotel 16 people were killed.

Although no soldiers had been killed in the affray, one of them - a man called Donald Black - was stabbed in the leg. The weapon used in the assault was a bayonet attached to a gun, presumably a weapon dragged off one of the soldiers in the scuffle.

Private Black was unable to identify his attacker but a young man called Richard Lewis, known throughout the town by his nickname Dic Penderyn, was arrested and charged with the assault.

Arrested with Dic was his cousin, Lewis Lewis. He was well-known to the authorities as an "agitator" and was certainly someone who was heavily involved with the organisation of the riot.

Young Dic, however at just 23-years-old, had limited involvement and was there, more as a spectator than a participant.

Richard Lewis, or Dic Penderyn, had been born in 1808 at Aberavon and had come to Merthyr in 1819 when his father found work in the mines. Richard was always known as Dic Penderyn after the village of Penderyn near Hirwaun where he lodged .

He was literate and reasonably well-educated, thanks to the Sunday School movement, and quite why he should have been singled out for arrest on that fateful day in June 1831 has never been made really clear.

Yet singled out he was. The result of the trial was a foregone conclusion and both men were found guilty and sentenced to death. Lewis soon had his sentence commuted to transportation as, despite his involvement in starting the riot, it became clear that he had actually saved the life of a special constable by shielding him from angry rioters. Dic, however, was doomed.

Despite numerous appeals for a reprieve - and the presentation of a petition with 11,000 names attached - the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, a man well known for his traditional and severe view of wrong-doing, refused all appeals for clemency. It was a strange decision as there was clearly little or no proof that Dic Penderyn was involved in the assault.

Nevertheless, in the eyes of authority, justice had to be done and, perhaps more importantly, had to be seen to be done. The execution would be an example to others.

Dic Penderyn was duly hanged outside Cardiff gaol, on the gallows that then stood in St Mary's Street - the site of the execution is now the St Mary's Street entrance to Cardiff Market. According to legend, Dic's final words were "Oh Lord, this is iniquity."

Legend also states that Dic's young wife was pregnant at the time and the shock of her husband's arrest, trial and subsequent execution caused her to miscarry.

Thousands grieved and lined the route as Dic's coffin was taken from Cardiff to Aberavon where he was buried. If Melbourne and the rest thought that the young man would soon be forgotten they were greatly mistaken.

In many respects the execution of Dic Penderyn was a fairly minor moment in Welsh history but, in his death, in his martyrdom, the young miner became a symbol for those who tried to fight and resist oppression, wherever it was to be found.

He became a working class hero, a folk hero, who has remained in the minds and the affections of all Welsh people.

Interestingly, many years later, a man by the name of Parker confessed on his deathbed that he had been the one to stab Private Black. He had then fled to America to avoid justice. Another man, James Abbott, also confessed to having lied on the witness stand. None of it did any good for Dic Penderyn, of course, as he had long been dead.

These days Dic is remembered as a true Welsh martyr. A book by Alexander Cordell published in the 1970s, The Fire People, kept his name alive and in 1977 a memorial to the town's famous son was unveiled outside Merthyr Library by the general secretary of the TUC. It was, perhaps, the least that could be done.

The Montague on Lundy

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 14:02 UK time, Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Lundy Island, that knotted fist of rock set in the Bristol Channel, is not really a Welsh island at all. It actually belongs - postally at least - to Devon. But so many Welsh men and women, boys and girls, took trips there in the days when the White Funnel Fleet regularly patrolled up and down the Channel that most people along the south Wales coast view it as a Welsh outpost.

Standing, at its highest point, at 400 feet above sea level, the island is three miles long and just half a mile wide.

At one time it was a noted base for pirates - until Henry III decided he had had enough and hanged the island's owner, William de Marisco for piracy.

The island boasts over 400 species of birds and large numbers of grey seals and soay sheep.

Perhaps more famously, however, in May 1906 Lundy was the scene of a dramatic shipwreck and doomed rescue attempt.

Engaged in wireless trials with receivers on the Scilly Isles, on the evening of 29 May 1906, the Duncan Class battleship HMS "Montague" was ploughing steadily up the Channel. Then, as often happens in the Bristol Channel, a dense fog suddenly enveloped the ship.

Soon she was off course and at 2.12am on the morning of 30 May she smashed onto the rocks of Lundy Island. Soundings had been taken regularly and moments before the impact they had shown 19 fathoms below "Montague's" hull.

Several crew members were injured, most of them by being knocked off their feet on impact. Luckily, however, there were no fatalities.

The ship had actually hit Shutter Rock off the south west corner of Lundy, ploughing bows-first onto sharp pinacles of rock. When Captain Adair ordered full astern, the ship simply refused to move. The rising tide then swung her broadside on to the island, both propellers were lost and a huge hole was ripped in the ship's bottom.

Distress flares were fired (with no result) and two officers were sent off in a gig, heading towards the lighthouse at the northern tip of the island.

It was a hard pull, over two miles, and then the men were faced with a perilous climb up the sheer cliffs to the lighthouse. The two officers actually thought they had hit Hartland Point on the Somerset coast and had to be enlightened by the keeper who told them, in no uncertain terms, that he most certainly knew which light he had charge of! Once the alarm was given ships came from all over to help in the rescue operations.

At first it was hoped that the "Montague" might be refloated and there were even plans to bring a floating dock across the Atlantic from Bermuda. It all came to nothing.

The ship was caught on the giant spikes of rock and the force of the wind and sea simply ripped her bottom to shreds. On 20 August the ship was paid off and salvage companies moved in.

Previously, dockyard maties from Pembroke Dock had been brought to the island, working in a futile attempt to save her and braving the arctic conditions of the island, living in temporary shacks for many weeks. When the news came that professional salvage companies were to be brought in and that they could now go home, the dockyard men celebrated by breaking into the island canteen and stealing all the liquor they could find.

Several of the workers were so drunk they fell down the sheer cliffs of the island. Their state of inebriation probably helped them as there were several broken limbs but, being relaxed as they fell, no deaths.

Stranded on Shutter Rock, the "Montague" soon became something of a tourist location. Campbell's steamers ran regular trips out to see the ship, leaving from ports such as Tenby, Swansea and Porthcawl.

The owners of smaller craft, fishing boats and the like from harbours all along the Welsh coast, also cashed in, happily taking paying customers to see the battleship in her last days. Some of the smaller craft were so overloaded that it was a miracle nobody was drowned or injured.

In the autumn of 1906, salvage operations on the "Montague" switched to rescuing items like the propellers and the ship's guns. These 12 inch weapons were exceptionally valuable, costing well over £12,000 each. Meanwhile the ship lay on the rocks and with winter fast approaching it was clear to everyone that the end could not be far away.

In October heavy seas battered the vessel and, inevitably, her back broke. The salvage men - who had made a daily trip out to the wreck over a swaying aerial walkway - withdrew and the ship was left to the elements. A proposal to use her as target practice was vetoed by the island's owner, the appropriately named Reverend Heaven.

Further gales in December caused more damage before the remains of the wreck was finally sold to "A Syndicate of South Wales Adventurers" for £4,000 - a far cry from the millions that the ship had cost to build and run.

The Admiralty might have lost a fortune in the disaster but the syndicate made another one through the selling of rescued armoured plate and the ship's fittings.

Salvage work continued throughout 1907 but within a few years the wreck of the "Montague" had totally disappeared, consumed by the ocean on which she was supposed to earn great honours.

Despite her tragedy, for a few short months she had provided great entertainment for the people of south Wales, a grim reminder for these wind-blown, salt-battered residents of places like Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire- as if they needed it - of the immense and awesome power of the sea.

The opening of Holyhead's new harbour

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 08:00 UK time, Monday, 20 June 2011

On 17 June 1880, the tiny north Wales town and port of Holyhead was suddenly filled, almost overwhelmed, by thousands of visitors and dignitaries. They had come to watch and applaud as the Prince of Wales formally opened the port's new harbour and hotel.

The occasion was a dramatic and important one. This new harbour spelled prosperity for the town and everyone knew that the future beckoned brightly.

Many people in the crowd were only too well aware that Holyhead had a long history as a port.

Sitting on the north-western tip of Anglesey, on the adjacent and tiny Holy Island, the invading Romans saw its advantages as early as the first century AD and quickly built a fort to protect the anchorage.

Soon a stone bridge connected Holy Island to the larger Anglesey (now replaced by a solid causeway) and the place became well-used as a port during the Middle Ages.

This was the ideal departure point for anyone intending to cross the Irish Sea or to sail south along the coast of Wales. In fact Holyhead was significant enough to be used, in 1332, as a major mustering point for a military expedition to Ireland.

Yet despite these clear advantages, for a long while Beaumaris was still regarded as the premier port on the island - sitting at the south east corner it was, at least, better protected from the elements - and it was not until the growth of the mail service between London and Ireland in the early 19th century that Holyhead really began to assume a dominant position.

Thomas Telford, who was building the connecting road to London, and John Rennie were heavily involved in creating the harbour at Holyhead. Rennie built what was known as Admiralty Pier at the north end of the harbour, the work being taken over by Telford after Rennie's death in 1821, and soon this was being heavily used for both goods and passengers.

To begin with the larger mail packets simply moored in the deep water channel and passengers - and their baggage - were transported ashore in small rowing boats or wherries. Such an arrangement, however, was clearly at the mercy of the tides and elements and in 1845 an Act of Parliament gave permission to build a new pier at Holyhead.

Brunel's Great Eastern docked at Holyhead in 1859 and for a while there were dreams of a regular transatlantic route. It came to nothing and the Great Eastern, far too large and unwieldy for use as a passenger ship, was relegated to laying the transatlantic telegraph cable across the ocean. She never returned to Holyhead.

In the 1870s the LNWR became alarmed at the plans of other companies to develop the Irish ferry terminal - and, eventually, to create a transatlantic route. They therefore decided to improve the inner harbour at Holyhead. New quays and sheds were built as well as a new harbour wall, the land behind it being filled in with rubble.

Previously, passengers disembarking at the old station, at the southern end of the town, had to be transported through the streets to the quayside by horse bus or cart in order to catch their boat. It was the same, of course, for people coming off the ferries - after what was often a rough and uncomfortable crossing. But now a new station was built, the platforms being divided by the angle of the harbour. This meant that passengers could, almost literally, climb out of their train and step onto the gangplank up to the ferry boat.

Part of the new complex was an elegant and comfortable station hotel - complete with memorial clock - so that travellers who had the time could either stay overnight or take tea while waiting for their boat.

When Edward, Prince of Wales, agreed to open the new complex it seemed as if the port of Holyhead was being given royal approval. The future was assured.

Of course it did not quite work out that way. Holyhead operated boats to the Irish port of Dun Laoghaire, close to Dublin. But when a rival ferry port was created at Fishguard in Pembrokeshire - running ferries to Rosslare - it meant that the Irish trade was split between the two ports and neither one of them ever achieved quite the degree of prosperity they had expected.

These days Holyhead continues to operate its ferries across the Irish Sea. A container harbour was opened in 1970 but this was a short-lived enterprise. The old station hotel closed in 1955 and, with the advent of ro-ro ferries, now most people barely notice the port as they speed through Holyhead on their way to their destination.

Yet for those who have imagination, it is easy to think back to 17th June 1880. That glorious day will live forever in the town's history.

Twm Sion Cati - the Welsh Robin Hood

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 09:30 UK time, Thursday, 16 June 2011

If there is one name or character from legend that most Welsh children have heard about, it is that of Twm Sion Cati.

Grey horse from

Twm Sion Cati is said to have sold a horse back to the very farmer he stole it from

In book, in comic strip and on television, he has been represented as the Welsh Robin Hood, a fabulous trickster and adventurer and yet, like Robin Hood, it is doubtful if the man ever actually existed.

According to legend, Twm was a man who led a double life. By day he was the respected and respectable Thomas Jones, a gentleman farmer and land owner who collected antiquities and old manuscripts and who loved nothing better than studying his family tree and that of other notable families in and around the Tregaron area of Ceredigion.

By night, however, legend declares that Thomas Jones became the redoubtable and fiendishly clever outlaw and highwayman, Twm Sion Cati. And that, really, sums up all that is known about one of the most famous of all Welsh heroes. The rest is just legend and fantasy.

Twm was supposedly born in about 1530 at Tregaron. His mother was Cati Jones, his father Sion ap Dafydd ap Madog - hence the nickname by which he is always known.

A Protestant, he had to flee Wales - so the legend goes - when Bloody Mary became Queen of England and lived in Switzerland until he was able, on the accession of Elizabeth, to return to his homeland in 1559.

Quite why Twm - or Thomas Jones - should have become an outlaw is not known. However, he supposedly had a hideout in a cave overlooking the river between Tregaron and Llandovery. Here he kept the spoils of his night-time activities but, hardly surprising, the cave has never been located and the treasure remains untouched.

Tales of Twm Sion Cati were, at first, passed on orally until, in 1763 an anonymous English language pamphlet entitled "Tomshone Catty's Tricks" was published.

The best known book about Twm, however, remains T. J. Llewelyn Prichard's "The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Sion Cati" which came out in 1828. The book was also later published in Welsh. It set the ground rules for the numerous stories about Twm and most of the later retellings of his adventures are based on this little publication.

The writer and naturalist George Borrow encountered an old drover in the area around Tregaron in 1854. At that time Borrow was walking the countryside and researching for his famous book "Wild Wales."

At that stage Borrow had not heard of Twm, or the legends surrounding him, but according to the drover Twm Sion Cati was an exceedingly clever thief who died a rich man, mayor of Brecon and loved by everyone who knew him. Borrow duly wrote about the incident and about Twm Sion Catti in his book.

Like Robin Hood, the stories of Twm Sion Catti are many and varied. According to one well known tale he once stole a fine chestnut horse from a farmer named Powell. Twm then painted the animal grey and sold it back to the farmer - who didn't uncover the crime until rain washed the paint off the horse!

In another adventure a shopkeeper tried to cheat him by selling him a pot with a hole in it. Twm simply dropped the pot over the man's head, saying that there surely was a hole in it - how else could he have fitted such a huge and stupid thing as the shopkeeper's head inside it?

All cultures need legendary figures such as Twm Sion Cati. England has Robin Hood, Wales has Twm. To prove their existence, one way or another, would be an impossible task. And anyway, as most children would agree, discovering the truth would only spoil a good story.

Read the BBC Wales Nature blog: Twm Sion Cati - wanted dead or alive

The Thetis disaster

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 08:09 UK time, Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The North Wales coast has seen many shipping disasters over the years but none more tragic than the loss of the brand new submarine HMS "Thetis" in the summer of 1939. The submarine was on her maiden voyage and 99 men died when she sank in the waters of Liverpool Bay, just 15 miles to the east of Llandudno.

Launched on 1 June 1939 from the Cammel Laird Shipyards in Birkenhead, she left for her trials/maiden voyage on the 31st of the month.

On board were 103 men, more than twice her intended complement. Just 69 were sailors, the rest being dockyard officials, engineers and technicians. It was very cramped inside that fragile hull.

The plan was for the "Thetis" to make her first dive during the trip and the civilians on board were offered the chance to leave the boat - submarines, for some reason, are always called boat, rather than ship - before the dive. All of them chose to remain on board.

The first dive attempt failed as, it was felt, the boat was too light and the decision was taken to add seawater to the torpedo tubes to make her heavier. Unbeknown to anyone the outer torpedo tube doors were already open and, therefore, the tubes were already full of water - during the painting process some weeks earlier enamel had dripped and solidified on the test tap that would and should have told Lt Frederick Woods that the doors were already open. Woods, like the rest of the men onboard, believed the tubes were empty.

The moment they began to flood the torpedo tubes, hundreds of tonnes of seawater quickly flooded into the forward compartments and the "Thetis" simply nose dived to the bottom.

It was three hours before help arrived and by that stage, the crew had already pumped out 60 tonnes of drinking water and fuel oil in an attempt to lighten her and bring her to the surface but the submarine was lying bow down with her stern protruding out of the water.

It seemed, for a while, that there was a good chance of getting the men out but vital cutting equipment arrived too late and those rescue vessels that quickly sped to the scene were literally helpless to do anything.

For 13 hours she lay, stern free of the sea with the trapped men almost within touching distance. Inside the metal hull air was running out as carbon dioxide slowly began to flood through the decks.

Lt Woods and three other sailors managed to escape using the Davis Escape gear that all submarines carried. They had squeezed through a small hatch and out into the murky water. However, when four other men tried the same route they were drowned and the escape attempts were abandoned.

A salvage ship had now appeared on the scene and a wire hawser was looped around the stern of the submarine, in an attempt to keep it raised. But with the rising tide the hawser snapped and at 3pm on 1 July the "Thetis" slipped below the surface. She did not reappear.

Rescuers were now helpless and, inevitably, the men on board became sleepier and sleepier before death finally closed in. In all, 99 men died in the tragedy. The subsequent Court of Inquiry decided that no blame could be attached to any individual and there the matter was dropped.

Shortly after the disaster war was declared on Germany and the Admiralty knew that it would soon require all the submarines it could get. As a consequence, the "Thetis" was raised from the seabed with the bodies of the sailors and dockyard workers still inside. She was beached at Traeth Bychan near Moelfre so that the men could be removed and initial investigation work carried out. Then the unlucky boat was taken back to the dockyard for repairs and modification.

The unlucky tag stuck, however. Renamed "Thunderer" she went to the Mediterranean for operations against the Italians. There, in March 1943, she was sunk in action off Sicily. This time they did not raise her again.

Sir George Everest

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 16:57 UK time, Monday, 13 June 2011

Have you ever thought where Mount Everest got its name from? It was actually named after the Surveyor General of India who, incidentally was a Welshman.

mount everest

The highest mountain in the world was named after a Welshman

George Everest was born at Gwernvale, Crickhowel in Powis on 4 July 1790. Early on in his life he decided on a career in the military and, once schooling was over, he joined the Royal Artillery

In 1806 he went to the Military Academy at Woolwich where he excelled at maths and, in particular, at trigonometry. Studies complete, Everest took ship for India, which was then the most valuable possession in the British Empire.

Sir Stamford Raffles, the creator of Singapore, selected Everest to take part in the reconnaissance of Java. This lasted from 1814 until 1816 and the young officer then took up the most important and influential post of his life.

He became assistant to Colonel William Lambton who was about to begin the great Trigonometric Survey of India. It was a mammoth task that, with the primitive theodolites (a precision instrument for measuring angles in the horizontal and vertical planes) and other equipment then available, was expected to last many years. In the event it took 25 years and Lambton died long before the survey was complete.

When Lambton died in 1825 George Everest succeeded to the post of Superintendent. Five years later, with the survey still underway, he was made Surveyor General of India.

Everest was always an innovator and during his time on the survey as Surveyor General of India he made many modifications and alterations to the equipment used. He also engaged a man called Henry Barrow and had him appointed to the post of instrument maker for the Sub Continent - a highly important role as now, for the first time, theodolites could be repaired in situ, without having to be sent back to Britain.

For years the survey ground on with Everest and his colleagues tramping over miles and miles of desert and jungle. The terrain caused huge difficulties and the climate exacted a terrible toll on them. At one point Everest himself fell ill and the survey had to be suspended for a while but with dogged determination, he was soon back on the job.

Finally the task was completed, the longest trigonometrical survey ever attempted. In 1843 George Everest gave up his post as Surveyor General and came home to a well-earned retirement. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1861, in recognition of his invaluable service, he received a knighthood.

In 1862 he was elected Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society but a few years later, on 1 December 1866, he died peacefully in his bed and was buried at Hove, near Brighton.

One of the most interesting facts about George Everest is that, in all probability, he never once laid eyes on the mountain that was named after him.

When he retired, Everest was succeeded as Surveyor General of India by Andrew Waugh. Exploration of the Himalayas was still in its infancy and within a few years the huge bulk of what was soon to become Mount Everest was discovered.

Waugh and others believed that it had never been seen before and was certainly not named - not by the British, perhaps, but the Tibetan and Nepalese porters in the region all had their name for it.

It hardly mattered to the members of the Raj. A British name was required and, in honour of the man who had completed the Great Trigonometric Survey of the Sub Continent, Waugh suggested that the name Everest should be used.

Sir George Everest protested. He had never been one to court fame. But his objections were over-ruled and it became Mount Everest. Attempts to climb this, the highest mountain in the world, began shortly afterwards.

Interestingly, the first Welshman to climb Mount Everest, like Sir George, also came from mid Wales. He was Caradog Jones, a renowned figure in the climbing world, who Sir George Everest would have been proud of.

Phil Carradice will be on the Roy Noble Show on Tuesday 14 June, from 2pm on BBC Radio Wales to chat with Roy about Sir George Everest.

The Welsh Houdini

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 15:50 UK time, Thursday, 9 June 2011

In the last years of the 19th century and in that short, seemingly idyllic period before the outbreak of World War One, the fame of one small man from Merionethshire was so great that newspapers all over the country led with tales of his exploits. Postcard publishers happily produced visual records of his life and, ultimately, his death.

The man in question was John Jones, better known as Coch Bach y Bala or, sometimes, the Welsh Houdini. Coch Bach was, quite simply, a criminal – not, perhaps, a great criminal but for a few short years his numerous escapes from prisons, police cells and holding gaols ensured him a renowned place in Welsh folklore.

He was born at Bala in 1853 and from an early age became involved in petty crime. He stole eggs from farmers' hen coops and unguarded property from people in the village.

By the age of 20, Coch Bach had served no fewer than three short terms of imprisonment for crimes such as riotous behaviour, loitering with intent and theft.

In October 1879 Coch Bach was sent to Ruthin Gaol to await trial – for the theft of a dozen watches. However, with sheer brazen effrontery he simply waited until his gaolers turned their backs to cook and enjoy their supper and then walked free through the front door of the gaol.

In order to get out through the front door he had actually picked the locks of four other doors, including that of his cell, which does bring into question the effectiveness both of the gaol and the gaolers!

After that escape, Coch Bach y Bala was “on the run” for several weeks before being arrested at the Swan Inn in Colwyn Bay. Tradition says that he was apprehended while asleep in bed. A reward of £5 had been promised for information leading to his recapture but whether or not it was ever claimed remains unknown.

As a result of his crimes (and subsequent escape) the Welsh Houdini was sentenced to 14 years hard labour but by 1891 he had been released on licence. And it was not long before he resumed his criminal ways.

He was not a clever criminal mastermind. The term 'career criminal' might be best applied to his exploits. Over the next few years Coch Bach was arrested many times. He was invariably convicted and went on to serve numerous prison sentences.

In 1900, waiting to be transferred from Caernarfon to Dartmoor Prison, he undertook one of his most famous escapes. He simply barricaded his cell door and while his gaolers were attempting to break in, he dug a tunnel through the floor and under the wall. His escape was daring enough but he was soon caught and sent off to serve his term at Dartmoor.

coch bach y bala

John Jones, better known as Coch Bach y Bala

In 1913, further escapes were made from the police cells at Bala and from the inefficient Ruthin Gaol. This last bid for freedom, on 1 October, was destined to be his last.

With amazing ingenuity, Coch Bach managed to cut a hole in the wall of the cell and then, between four and five in the morning – while the prison, prisoners and guards included, was still asleep – made good his escape.

By knotting his blankets together and using them as a rope the daring criminal was able to lower himself down the outside of the prison wall and disappear into the darkness.

The North Wales Times called it an escape of a "sensational manner" and went on to say that:

"He (Coch Bach y Bala) gained his liberty as a result of indomitable pluck, great astuteness and wonderful"

It really did seem as if no prison could hold him. Just five days later, however, he was unaccountably shot in the woods near Nantclwyd. On the run, hunting for food to keep himself alive, Coch Bach had come across 19-year-old Reginald Jones Bateman who challenged him to stop and then fired his shotgun. The Welsh Houdini was wounded in the leg and groin. He died from shock and haemorrhage later in the day.

John Jones, the redoubtable Coch Bach y Bala, was seen by many as the classic case of the little man fighting against the powers of authority.

He was, when all was said and done, a criminal but by his many daring escapes not the criminal activities that had brought him to prison or gaol in the first place he seemed to capture the hearts of the Welsh people. His really was a case of the lovable rogue for whom most people had a sneaking admiration.

Allen Raine, forgotten Welsh writer

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 14:20 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Allen Raine, the pen name of Anne Adaliza Puddicombe, was one of the best-selling authors of the late Victorian/early Edwardian age.

Her books sold millions of copies, not only across Wales but in the whole of Britain, and yet these days she is largely forgotten or ignored.

She was born Anne Adaliza Evans on 6 October 1836 in Newcastle Emlyn, the eldest child of a lawyer father and a mother who was a granddaughter of the noted Methodist preacher Daniel Rowland.

When Ada (as she was known in the family) was 13 she and her younger sister were sent to Cheltenham to be educated and trained by the Reverend Henry Solly. It was a common enough process in those days but the sudden and perhaps unexpected jolt to the senses of the two girls, taken from the rural idyll of Newcastle Emlyn and deposited in the middle of a modern, cosmopolitan town like Cheltenham can only be imagined.

It was something, however, that Ada thoroughly enjoyed and she threw herself into the experience. The Reverend Solly was a learned and worldly man - he knew Dickens while George Eliot and Bulwer Lytton were regular visitors to the house and area. It was certainly an intellectual and literary atmosphere in which to grow up and come of age.

After Cheltenham came a period of living in London and its suburbs - where, among other delights, she saw the fireworks on Primrose Hill to celebrate the end of the Crimean War. It could not last, however, and with more than a degree of disappointment Ada returned to the family home at Newcastle Emlyn in 1856.

No matter how much she loved the Carmarthen and Cardigan area there was not the same sense of excitement as she had found in London.

Ada soon settled back into Welsh life, however, and spent the next 16 years in what now seems to have been something of a stagnant bubble. Then, in April 1872, when she was well over 30, she met and married Beynon Puddicombe, foreign correspondent for Smith Payne's Bank.

The couple settled down to married life at Addiscombe near Croydon but the life of a banker's wife did not suit Ada particularly well. She wanted more.

In 1894 she entered a competition at the National Eisteddfod for the best serial story, in English or Welsh, that was characteristic of Welsh life. Much to her surprise her story Ynysoer won the competition. The serial was duly published in the North Wales Observer but did not appear in book form until after her death when it appeared as Where Billows Roll.

Despite the fact that she was now living south of London, Ynysoer was set on the Cardiganshire coast, around Tresaith and Llangrannog, an area that was to be the setting for every one of her future books. To begin with, however, success as a novelist seemed to elude her.

Her second book, A Welsh Singer, was rejected by six different publishers before Hutchinson finally decided to take a chance with the unknown author who had now taken to calling herself Allen Raine - the name, she claimed, having come to her in a dream.

The reluctance of London publishers to accept the book has sometimes been seen as prejudice against Welsh characters and Welsh settings. Yet Ada was not going to change either her locations or her style.

She was a romantic novelist who loved to create good characters and tell an engaging story - exactly the qualities that the emerging middle classes were looking for in their literature. A Welsh Singer was an immediate success with the public and, like the rest of her books, sold in its thousands.

In February 1900, Beynon Puddicombe began showing signs of mental illness and he was forced to give up his work. He and Ada retired to Wales, to Bronmor, close to Tresaith in what is now Ceridigion.

Beynon died in 1906 and sadly, Ada had only two more years left to her, dying on 21 June 1908. She continued to write, enjoying good relations with the public and with the literary critics. As one of them felt obliged to write when reviewing Hearts of Wales:


"Allen Raine has from her cradle been used to looking at Welsh life, not with borrowed but with her own eyes, and it is this, as a writer of Welsh fiction - - - that gives her such an advantage over those who only know the country and its folk from tourist's descriptions or the experience gleaned from a brief holiday."


Allen Raine was a romantic novelist but her unequalled knowledge of Welsh life and Welsh society mark her down as an influential and distinctive writer who captured the essence of a country still trying to find its place in the modern world. She deserves far more recognition than has yet been accorded.

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