Archives for November 2011

'My Failings and Imperfections' - the diary of a promiscuous Welsh Victorian landowner

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 15:51 UK time, Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A confessional diary detailing the promiscuous life of a Victorian gentleman living in rural Wales 150 years ago has been published.

Journalist Steve Dubé, the former farming editor of the Western Mail, came across the diary of by chance in the Pembrokeshire Record Office in Haverfordwest several years ago.

The raucous life of Rees Thomas of Dol-llan, Llandysul chronicled in this diary details his life full of addiction, promiscuity and loneliness.

Now the diary, published as 'My Failings and Imperfections' is to be launched tonight in Llandysul. It is the first joint publication by Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society and Ceredigion Historical Society.

Speaking about Rees' life, Dubé, who edited the book, said:

"After the death of his two elder brothers, Rees becomes head of a family that includes five orphaned children, three spendthrift younger brothers with drink problems and a sister unhappily married to a drunken vicar.

"They are all on his back, and his unsympathetic mother, who lives next door, makes matters worse.

"It's a situation that forces him into the clutches of the demon drink and the arms of his not always willing servants, who react rebelliously. And Rees Thomas writes it all down, plainly and honestly, over a period of two years and eight months from 1860."

You can read more about My Failings And Imperfections by Rees Thomas on the Wales Online website.

The book is being launched at the Porth Hotel, Llandysul tonight at 7pm.

Neil Kinnock on Coming Home: "I came from hard workers and fighters"

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 12:20 UK time, Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock once famously declared he was the first in his family for "a thousand generations" to attend university and is proud of his modest beginnings.

Neil Kinnock

Neil Kinnock was born in 1942 in the coal mining town of Tredegar and later gained a degree in industrial relations and history at Cardiff.

Lord Kinnock made the remarks about his background at a Welsh Labour party conference just before the 1987 general election, saying it was not the lack of talent or strength which held people back, but opportunity.

But now, in a new series of the family history programme Coming Home that begins tonight on BBC One Wales, Lord Kinnock learned that a great-uncle of his had a very privileged start to life, as he attended an exclusive public school in Surrey.

In the programme, Lord Kinnock defends his political statement, in light of the discovery, and said: "Going to this school doesn't naturally convey the fact he had a good education."

Tracing a family history can reveal startling and occasionally uncomfortable long-forgotten facts about a family history. Lord Kinnock spoke to BBC Cymru Wales about his reasons for agreeing to take part in the programme. He said:

""Everyone is interested in their own background but very few have ever researched the details of who and where they came from.

"I've always been intrigued by the bits of my family history that I knew so I was glad to accept the invitation from Coming Home. I knew that Mike Churchill-Jones and the rest of the BBC Wales team of experts would do some real digging.

"The experience of Coming Home was fascinating. We tore around south and west Wales from Tredegar to Kidwelly and Brecon and then dashed over to Bristol before getting back to Cardiff.

"Some of what I saw and heard was familiar because, obviously, I've always been close to the valleys and to my family. I knew, of course, that I came from hard workers and fighters who surmounted great adversity and poverty. But there were several revelations about my grandparents and their forebears that were completely new to me.

"Since the story of the Howells and Griffiths and Herberts and Kinnocks that were my people is very similar to that of countless others of my generation and background I think that many might share my sense of discovery.

"I'm grateful to Coming Home - not least because the family tree that they gave me has deeply intrigued my grandchildren. After all, it's their story too!"

Read more about Neil Kinnock's experience on Coming Home on BBC Wales News.

If Coming Home has inspired you to take start tracing your family history, take a look at Cat Whiteaway's tips on the BBC Wales History blog.

A history of Welsh protest

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 14:15 UK time, Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The strike by public sector workers planned for Wednesday 30 November 2011 threatens to be the largest organised withdrawal of labour for many years. Without going into the rights and wrongs of the matter, it demonstrates, if nothing else, the deep feelings of unease and unrest felt by most, if not all, ordinary working men and women regarding their working conditions and pension entitlements.

In Wales there has been a long-standing history of protest against perceived injustice. That sense of rankling, of being unjustly treated, certainly lay at the root of the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion in the closing years of the 14th and early part of the 15th centuries.

Tonypandy after the strike 1910

Tonypandy after the strike 1910

When Lord Grey appropriated part of Glyndŵr's land at Glyndyfrdwy in north Wales, the Welshman initially took the matter to court, intent on staying within the law. It was only when he was met with the off-hand and insulting comment "What care we for barefoot Welsh dogs" that Glyndŵr knew it was time for drastic and dramatic action. The rest, as they say, is history.

The story of Wales and her industrial heritage is littered with incidents of miners, iron workers and quarrymen being pushed to the margins of society and, as a consequence, feeling that they had no option other than to withdraw their labour and make a formal protest.

Only very rarely was there any intention of deliberate and systematic violence, at least not to begin with - that, unfortunately, came almost as a by-product. The Rebecca Riots of the 1840s are, perhaps, an exception as the intention of these, largely, agricultural labourers, pushed beyond all reason by a variety of economic factors, was always to destroy the toll gates and the workhouses in rural areas.

In the main, however, the intention of public gatherings and the occasional withdrawal of labour was simply to protest and show the unhappiness of the workers. The last half of the 18th century, for example, was marked by a series of disturbances centred on the availability of food, right across the country from Pembrokeshire in the west to Machynlleth and Bangor in the north.

It was a time of harsh corn laws and while food supplies were actually quite adequate, much of it was marked down for sale and export to foreign buyers. And sometimes, desperate to feed their families, the initial protest spilled over into fighting and violence.

As early as 1740, while the industrialisation of Wales was still gathering momentum, a group of miners gathered together in Rhuddlan to protest against low pay - the low funds with which, of course, they had to pay rent and feed their families. The military was sent in to disperse the groups of miners and violence erupted. In 1758 a similar protest by the quarrymen of Cilgwyn saw a mass march on the town of Caernarfon in an attempt to seize corn that was being held there prior to shipment abroad. This time two of the protesters were killed.

The Napoleonic Wars might have brought a degree of prosperity and economic growth to the industrial parts of Wales but the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 ensured a long period of peace in Europe. And that, of course, brought a decline in the amount of iron required by the armed forces and a consequent decrease in wages and, in some areas, unemployment.

In 1816 the riots in Merthyr and Treorchy were so serious that troops were brought in to disperse over 5,000 protesters. Ironmaster William Crawshay was forced to take refuge in a farmhouse while his compatriot Josiah John Guest barricaded himself into his fortified house rather than face the wrath of his workers.

This was also the time of enclosures, farmers and sheep herders losing the land they had worked for years as land owners, many of them in-comers to the area, tried to change the face of the countryside. The War of the Little Englishman, which took place in rural west Wales saw 500 farmers and agricultural labourers attempting to stop one wealthy Englishman enclosing what had previously been common land.

Newport mural

Chartism in Wales - Newport Rising

The story of the Merthyr Riots, the Scotch Cattle and the Chartists - in particular the raising of the Red Flag on Hirwaun Common prior to the Merthyr Riots and the Chartist march on Newport in November 1839 - are too well known to warrant recounting here.

However, the protests and, in many cases, the riots that accompanied them, were all symptomatic of an oppressed people for whom debate and discussion, argument and reason, had led nowhere. There was, literally, nothing else to do but strike. And as the 19th and 20th centuries unfolded, things did not get any easier.

Such was the strength of feeling amongst north Wales quarrymen that in 1896 they embarked on a one-year withdrawal of labour. The hardships endured by the men and their families are barely imaginable. Not even the pressing needs of the British war machine could prevent south Wales miners, unhappy with their working conditions and wages, coming out on strike in July 1915 and it required all the skill of Lloyd George - and important government concessions - to get the miners back to work.

The story of the General Strike of 1926 is well known but not many realise that the nation-wide stoppage was followed by a 10 month coal strike as the miners refused to submit to government pressure. In the mining valleys of Wales the strike brought terrible hardship and anxiety but, in the minds of most miners, it was a battle that had to be fought.

And so it went on, throughout the 20th century, ordinary working men and women feeling that they had no option but to strike in order to get their views and feelings understood by the country as a whole. In 1935, for example, over 250,000 people took to the streets to protest against a reduction of unemployment benefit - it certainly made people sit up and take notice but, ultimately, it had little overall effect.

Miners wives at protest

Welsh miners' wives attend a protest rally

It was the same with the Miners Strike of 1984-85. A doomed attempt to curtail the actions of the National Coal Board, which had announced its intention of closing 20 mines, it was a battle that brought hatred and bitterness to the Welsh coal mining communities. In the opening month of the strike Wales was firmly behind the action, with nearly 100% of miners refusing to work - the largest stoppage anywhere in the country.

Even when the strike ended the following March, Wales still had the strongest support for the protest with almost 95% of miners off work. The death of taxi driver David Wilkie, killed while transporting a working miner to the Merthyr Vale Colliery, was one of the factors leading to the end of the strike. And of course, ultimately, losing the fight meant losing the mining industry - as Arthur Scargill and the other miner leaders knew only too well.

Wales has a noble tradition of resisting oppression, whether it be from individuals or from Government. Violence should never be condoned but the right to make peaceful protest against iniquity and wrong decision making is something that lies deep in the heart of all Welsh people.

Genealogist Cat Whiteaway's tips to kick start your family history research

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Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 11:00 UK time, Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The return of Coming Home this week reminds me of my first job in television. I could never have imagined that one day I would be meeting Donny Osmond in a posh London hotel with a film crew in tow to tell him about his Welsh ancestors. It was even stranger when you think that as a Mormon he has a religious commitment to knowing his heritage.

Cat Whiteaway

Cat Whiteaway

At first Donny was as nervous as I was. He thought that we were aiming to shock him and pull some nasty skeletons out of cupboards. In fact, out of all the celebrities he was the most genuine and his emotional reaction to the sight of the grave of his great great great great grandfather is one I will always remember.

Of course the advent of family history programmes, in parallel with the growth of the internet, has heralded a surge in genealogical interest. After all, the celebrities' ancestors were just normal people leading normal lives just like you and me.

With that in mind I've been asked to write a series of articles on this blog, which is very exciting. My hope is that as well as sharing some of my personal experiences I will be able to pass on some valuable tips and hints to help you with your family history.

First steps in tracing your family history

The first thing I always encourage is that you sit down with the older people in your family and ask plenty of questions. Make a note of everything they say, or better still record it. So when you get the Christmas decorations out of the attic why not have a good rummage and see what else is up there? Dig out old photograph albums and make pencil notes about who, where and when. Ask questions about those war medals hidden in the drawer all of your childhood.

Get out!

Go for a drive to the churches where key family events have taken place. Be sure to listen hard but also be prepared to take some things with a pinch of salt; if you can't embellish in old age then when can you?

Naturally I couldn't ask Donny or any of the other celebrities on Coming Home any questions and had to revert to archive material, biographies and websites in the first instance, before going over the evidence and gathering confirmation via documents.

Get the most out of family get togethers

Make it your aim to spend some valuable time over the Christmas holiday period gathering all the information you can to give yourself a great start on your family history, one which is based on familial facts and which is personal to you, not just databases accessed on the internet.

Cat Whiteaway and Donny Osmond

Cat Whiteaway and Donny Osmond

Hitting the headlines

That first ever Coming Home with Donny was broadcast on St David's Day in 2006 and it was thrilling to know that we beat the rugby home international in the ratings!

It wasn't quite so funny to see a photo of myself in a women's magazine with the headline "I couldn't wait to get into Donny's genes", but since then I've never looked back. I've unearthed some truly amazing discoveries and learned so much more than simply how to create a family tree.

A new series of Coming Home begins on Wednesday 30 November at 8.30pm on BBC One Wales.

In this first episode of the new series, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock learns that he was not the first Kinnock to have a high-quality full-time education as he originally thought.

Wales History has some useful tips to help you trace your family history. Take a look at our family history section.

Wales and the movies

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 13:34 UK time, Friday, 25 November 2011

The story of film making in Wales is a long and distinguished one, reaching back to the 1890s when the cinema and the film makers art were in their infancy.

The very first film made in the country was a short silent feature on a royal visit to Cardiff, a modest enough beginning from which mighty oaks were to grow.

It was with the advent of pioneer film maker and fairground showman William Haggar that things moved on to an altogether higher level. Haggar made over 30 silent movies, many of them documentaries but some pieces of drama, such as the story of arch-criminal Charlie Peace (filmed, largely, at Pembroke Dock), and the defeat of the invading French army at Fishguard in 1797.

Haggar began a tradition that reached down the century to achieve fruition in the work of men like Karl Francis with his later Giro City and Ms Rhymney Valley.

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Films in the Welsh language have also been produced over the years, starting with the 1935 release Y Chwarelwr. The most notable, however, has to be Hedd Wyn, the story of the Welsh poet killed in 1917, six weeks before he won the Chair at the National Eisteddfod. Hedd Wyn was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 and, that same year, won a Bafta for the best foreign language film - recognition indeed, even if the movie was denied the widespread distribution that it undoubtedly deserved.

There have been numerous films, by both British and American movie makers, made and set in Wales. The Citadel, released in 1938, is an early example where director King Vidor adapted and shot a Hollywood version of AJ Cronin's book about a doctor in the Welsh valleys.

A few years later John Ford came to film How Green Was My Valley. Viewed now, with hindsight and the benefit of both time and distance, the film seems hackneyed and clichéd - with miners singing hymns as they came home from their shifts at the end of the day - but in 1941 it won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.

How Green Was My Valley was a sickly-sweet, idealised version of Wales, not dissimilar to Bette Davis' The Corn Is Green which was made at the end of World War Two. Tiger Bay, filmed in 1959 and starring John and Hayley Mills, gave an altogether grittier version of the country. Set in Cardiff's docklands but actually shot in Newport - Tiger Bay itself being considered far too rough and ready - the film caused many later visitors to the area to think that Cardiff also had a massive transporter bridge.

Since then there have been many films set in Wales, some of which have achieved immense popularity - the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor version of Under Milk Wood, for example. The 1972 film may have been halting and unclear but it managed to give a new lease of life to Dylan Thomas' play.

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More literary movies that have achieved recognition include experiments such as The Edge Of Love and The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain - the title being as intriguing as the film itself.

With its rugged mountains and sea cliffs Wales has often been the location for filming, even though the films have actually been set elsewhere. The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman and supposedly set in China was actually made in north Wales. The 1969 Carry On Up The Khyber, set on the north west frontier of India, was also filmed in north Wales, in and around the Llanberis Pass, while in 1968 Peter O'Toole, direct from his success as Lawrence of Arabia, arrived in Pembroke to film The Lion In Winter - the action supposedly taking place in France.

One of the most interesting films made in Wales was Moby Dick (1956), starring Gregory Peck. Filmed around the Fishguard area, the movie had a script by Ray Bradbury - his first - and featured a huge man-made white whale. With the filming over the whale broke its moorings and disappeared into the distance, never to be seen again.

There have been so many others - Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, An American Werewolf In London - even though it supposedly took place in the West Country - and the latest Harry Potter and Robin Hood films, to name just a few.

And, of course, Welsh characters feature quite heavily in many famous films. These range from Richard Burton's flat mate Cliff in Look Back in Anger to Burton's own drunken Welsh poet, MacPhisto, in Candy. No survey of Welsh involvement in the move industry, however brief, can ever ignore Stanley Baker's 1964 epic Zulu. The film, which also starred Ivor Emmanuel, told the story of the South Wales Borderers and their defence of Rorkes Drift during the Zulu War - not entirely accurately but certainly with gusto and lots of Welsh pride.

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These days Wales has become something of a centre for television drama. Doctor Who and Torchwood regularly use Welsh location shots while Gavin and Stacey did more for the town of Barry than any regeneration programme.

One thing is clear, Wales has been, and will continue to be, heavily involved in the major media component of the last 100 or so years - the movie industry.

Read film critic and historian David Berry's guide to the Welsh film industry on the BBC Wales Arts website.

The Llanfair PG column

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 13:05 UK time, Wednesday, 23 November 2011

People in Wales might be excused for failing to see the significance of the date 24 November 1816. On the face of it, little happened in the world at large on that day.

Yet in the tiny Welsh village of Llanfair PG on Ynys Mon - or Anglesey as it was then known - a great celebration was taking place. On that day 27 metre column was unveiled, commemorating the courage and heroism of the Marquess of Anglesey who lived just a few miles away at Plas Newydd on the Menai Straits.

The Marquess, Henry William Paget to give him his full name, was one of the most remarkable men ever to hold a commission in the British army and his courage at the Battle of Waterloo has gone down in folklore.

Born in May 1768, he was the eldest son of the Earl of Uxbridge, and succeeded to the title in 1812. Before that date he was known simply as Lord Paget.

Henry Paget was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, and, as was the custom of the times, duly became a member of parliament - first at Caernarfon, then for Milborne Port, before being appointed Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds in 1804.

When was broke out with revolutionary France Lord Paget (as he then was) immediately raised a regiment of volunteers and began a military career that saw him rise quickly through the ranks, helped undoubtedly by a seemingly bottomless purse. He was, however, also pretty good at the job.

By 1802 Paget was a major general and in 1809 commanded the cavalry during Sir John Moore's unfortunate campaign in the Iberian Peninsula.

His control and handling of the cavalry to support and hold the rearguard defence - thus allowing Moore's army to be evacuated - was nothing short of exemplary. It could not help General Sir John Moore as he died from wounds sustained at the Battle of Corunna during the retreat to the sea. Thanks in no small part to Lord Paget, however, most of the army got away.

A long term relationship with the wife of Henry Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington, severely limited Paget's employment during the Peninsula War and for a long time there were bad feelings between Wellington and the handsome - and rakish - Lord Paget.

In 1810 both Paget and Lady Charlotte Wellesley were divorced from their respective partners and were then married in a hasty ceremony. It made things a little easier between Wellington and Paget but there was still a degree of frostiness and distance in their relationship. This did not make matters easy when Lord Uxbridge, as he had now become, was appointed to lead the British cavalry in Belgium during Napoleon's last great gamble, the Hundred Days as it is known.

This distance or coldness may, to some extent, be the reason for one of the great remarks in British military history. During the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815, Lord Uxbridge led the spectacular charge of the heavy cavalry, checking and ultimately destroying d'Erlon's Corps in the centre of the French line.

Then, in the final stage of the battle, Uxbridge and Wellington were sitting side by side on horseback when a cannon ball passed between them. It was one of the last cannon shots of the battle and it struck Uxbridge on his leg.

"By God, sir, I have lost my leg," Uxbridge said. The duke glanced down and replied "By God, sir, so you have." The remarks have always been taken as an example of British upper class reserve and breeding - the bad feeling between the two men might also have had a part to play.

Lord Uxbridge was taken to the rear where a surgeon removed the shattered limb. According to legend Uxbridge continued to write and read despatches as his leg was removed, remarking to his aide de camp: "I have had a pretty long run, time to let other young men become beaus now."

Two weeks after Waterloo, in gratitude for his part in the campaign and at the Battle of Waterloo, the Prince Regent made Uxbridge the Marquess of Anglesey. He also had an artificial leg fitted - the leg and the saw with which the stump was removed later found their way into the museum at Plas Newydd, once the Marquess's home on Ynys Mon.

The Marquess went on to lead a distinguished public life, twice becoming Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and, in 1827, Master General of the Ordnance. He finally retired from public life as a field marshal in March 1852. He died on 29 April 1854, outliving his beloved wife Charlotte by barely a year.

The column at Llanfair PG was a suitable tribute to a remarkable man, albeit one rooted in the class conscious world of 19th century Britain. A separate monument, this time to his lost leg, was also erected on the field at Waterloo but some years later the bones were dug up and put on display. The Marquess of Anglesey would surely have disapproved.

Cold Recall: Reflections of a Polar Explorer

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Polly March Polly March | 16:04 UK time, Tuesday, 22 November 2011

An exhibition to mark 100 years since Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen made his epic journey to the South Pole is to open at the Norwegian Church Arts Centre in Cardiff Bay this weekend.

Amundsen is most famous in the UK for beating Captain Scott's party to become the first to reach the South Pole in 1911.

Roald Amundsen in 1910

Roald Amundsen in 1910

The exhibition will feature many of the hand-coloured lantern slides that Amundsen used in public lectures about his expeditions through the Northwest Passage and to the South Pole.

The official opening of the show this Sunday will coincide with the church's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which this year will be especially poignant as the church have planted a tree of remembrance to the 77 victims who died in the 22 July bomb and gun attacks.

Eight people were killed in a bombing in the capital Oslo and 69 were shot dead at a youth camp on the island of Utoeya. One of the survivors of the youth camp siege will be present at the service.

The exhibit is on loan from Norway's Fram Museum and also aims to illustrate the gruelling physical challenges Amundsen faced in his work, his demanding daily routine and how he interpreted his expeditions for an international audience.

It includes abridged versions of Amundsen's own manuscripts from his original lectures and is divided into two parts: the Northwest Passage and the Gjøa expedition 1903-06; and the South Pole Expedition 1910-14.

Amundsen's expedition ship Fram and Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova in the Bay of Whales, 4 February 1911

Amundsen's expedition ship Fram and Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova in the Bay of Whales, 4 February 1911

Amundsen led an extraordinary life, having been inspired by the 19th century explorer Sir John Franklin to pursue an interest in polar expeditions.

He led the first expedition to sail through the Northwest Passage, completed the first journey around the Arctic Ocean and also crossed the Arctic Ocean by airship.

He spent years preparing for his expeditions, even spending time with the Canadian Inuit to further his understanding of indigenous people.

Amundsen or Sgt Peder Ristvedt at the North Magnetic Pole, May 1904

Amundsen or Sgt Peder Ristvedt at the North Magnetic Pole, May 1904

The exhibition has been made possible via a special partnership between Cardiff and the Norwegian Embassies in London and Dublin.

It will be officially opened on Sunday, November 27 by Councillor Nigel Howells, Cardiff Council's executive member for sport, leisure and culture and Tom-Christer Nilsen, the County Mayor of Hordaland. Hordaland is the Norwegian county twinned with Cardiff which each year gives a tree to the city.

The tree lighting ceremony will begin with Christmas music and entertainment from 4pm.

The arts centre in Harbour Drive reopened six months ago, following an extensive refurbishment.

Councillor Nigel Howells, who is also the Chair of the Norwegian Church Advisory Committee, said: "Every year we celebrate the annual tree lighting with guests from Norway, so it is fitting for the Tree of Remembrance to be accompanied by the exhibition opening; both highlighting the courage of the Norwegian people."

The exhibition runs until 18 December, with free entry.

Phil Carradice reveals his favourite blog articles on the Roy Noble show

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 10:20 UK time, Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Phil Carradice joins Roy Noble this afternoon to look back at some of Phil's favourite articles written for the BBC Wales History blog.

Phil Carradice at his book launch at  Windsor Book Shop in Penarth

Phil Carradice at his book launch in Penarth

Over the past 21 months, Phil has written over 160 articles for BBC Wales History. Some tell the well known stories from Welsh history such as the Rebecca Riots, others focus on the lesser known events and personalities that make Welsh history so engaging, such as Harry Grindell Matthews, who invented the death ray.

One hundred of Phil's favourite history blog posts have now been compiled in a book called Snapshots Of Welsh History... Without The Boring Bits, which is published this month.

Phil Carradice will be on the Roy Noble show from 2pm today on BBC Radio Wales.

Dr William Price and the beginnings of cremation

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 14:14 UK time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Wales has had its fair share of eccentrics over the years but none was more bizarre or more flamboyant than the mercurial and fascinating Dr William Price of Llantrisant.

This Chartist and republican, a man who ate no meat, drank mainly champagne, eschewed the wearing of socks and prescribed a vegetarian diet for his patients instead of medicine, has a much more significant claim to fame, however. For this was the man who, effectively, opened the way for legalised cremation in Britain.

Born on 4 March 1800 at Rudry near Caerphilly, Price was the fifth child of the Rev William Price. His father wanted William to enter the church but the young man had different ambitions. He wanted to become a doctor and was, accordingly, apprenticed to a local surgeon, Dr Evan Edwards. He was just 13 years of age and after a number of years, following the death of his father, managed to enroll himself at St Barts in London.

Price was clearly a man of huge intellect. He passed his examinations in just 12 months and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons before the age of 22. After further study in anatomy and physiology he returned to Wales to live and work in 1821. In 1827 he moved to Nantgarw, just up the valley from Cardiff and became surgeon to the ironmaster Francis Crawshay.

A strain of eccentricity, even of insanity, ran in his family and this quickly began to show itself in his behaviour. He dressed in a white tunic with green trousers and red waistcoat and developed a liking for outlandish costume, notably a fox-skin headdress with the legs and tails hanging down over his shoulders and back. His hair was worn long in plaits and, in these early years, he had the rather disconcerting habit of racing, stark naked, over the hills around Pontypridd.

William Price had little time for many of the standard medical treatments of the day, things like bleeding and purging, believing that a vegetarian diet was far more important than anything else. He was dogmatic in his medical practice, refusing to treat patients who would not give up smoking.

An advocate of what was, in effect, an early example of the health service - he believed that patients should pay him when they were well and he would then treat them when they fell ill - Price was elected as the private medical practitioner to a group of workers at the local chainworks. They paid him with a weekly deduction from their wages.

Dr William Price was no ordinary man. He had little time for marriage, feeling that it was an institution that did little more than enslave women. He did believe, however, in free love. As if to prove his point he fathered several illegitimate children and fell out with church authorities over this issue on many occasions.

He became fascinated by the old druidic rites and even held druidic ceremonies at the rocking stone outside Pontypridd. He even began to build a druidic temple in the area, thus infuriating the local Methodists who went as far as to accuse him of trespass.

William Price was a supporter of Chartism, some accounts saying that he attended Chartist meetings in a cart pulled by a pair of goats. Having moved to Llantrisant, he was made leader of the Pontypridd and District group and, following the disaster of the Chartist march on Newport in 1839 was forced to flee to France. Legend declares that he left dressed as a woman and that a police officer even assisted him up the gangplank of his ship - unlikely but hugely entertaining.

Price lived in Paris for several years before returning to the Pontypridd area in 1846. He again fled to the continent in 1860 when a warrant for his arrest - he had refused to pay a fine - was issued. This time his exile was for a further five years.

Returning to Wales and to Ty'r Clettwr at Llantrisant, Price promptly installed his 16-year-old housekeeper, one Gwenllian Llewellyn, as his mistress. Despite his advanced age (he was then 83-years-old) he fathered a son by Gwenllian, naming him Iesu Grist, Welsh for Jesus Christ.

When Iesu died in 1884, aged just five months, Price cremated his body on an open pyre in a field at Llantrisant. Whether the good doctor was opposed to the traditional act of Christian burial or whether he was more interested in the druidic rituals of the past, is not known. However, what is clear is that, dressed in his flowing druids robes, he timed the cremation to coincide with the conclusion of chapel services in the town.

As might be expected, the local people were wild with indignation at what they saw as pure sacrilege. They attacked Price and were only prevented from assaulting Gwenllian by the pack of large dogs that Price kept at his home.

William Price was arrested and charged. However, in a sensational trial, held in Cardiff, Justice Stephens acquitted Price, a judgement and a decision that led almost directly to the passing of the Cremation Act, thus making the burning of bodies legal in Britain.

After fathering several more children, Dr William Price died on 23 January 1893. His body was cremated in front of many thousands of spectators - some estimates being as high as 20,000 - who flocked to Llantrisant to witness the event. Several tons of coal and wood were piled up underneath the corpse in order to make it burn more effectively.

They say that all the pubs in Llantrisant ran dry on the day of that cremation. Price had organised everything, even selling tickets to the event - bizarre and outlandish, right to the end!

The birth of Barry Docks

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 08:23 UK time, Monday, 14 November 2011

Visitors to the seaside town of Barry, six or seven miles to the west of Cardiff, might be forgiven for thinking that the place held nothing more important than a pleasure beach, a fun fair and a few empty docks that seem to have little or no purpose.

Yet there was a time when Barry was the largest coal exporting port in Britain, possibly even the world. That may have been a long time ago and the town's days of glory may be gone, but what a glory they were.

Postcard of Barry Docks (from the Eric Williams collection)</

Barry Docks (from the Eric Williams collection)

The development of Barry as a port was down to two things - the rapid growth of the south Wales coal trade and the dynamic personality and business acumen of David Davies, the first Welsh millionaire.

The area around Barry has been occupied since earliest times, Mesolithic flints having been found at Friars Point on Barry Island and the remains of an Iron Age fort having been uncovered on the promontory at Porthkerry.

The Romans knew the area well, one of their retired soldiers building a villa at nearby Llandough. The raiding Norsemen named the two islands out in the estuary - Steep Holm and Flat Holm - while the Normans (themselves of Viking origin) came to settle and stay, erecting a castle at Barry itself.

The town - if it can justify such a title - was badly hit by the Black Death in the 14th century and, while the place continued to function as a small port and trading centre, as late as 1871 the population was no greater than 100. Barry Island, just off the coast, was popular with locals and visitors alike who would make their way out to the island by boat or, at low tide, via a series of stepping stones. And that was it - until the coal trade arrived.

By the second half of the 19th century Cardiff, the main coal exporting port in Wales, had become something of a bottleneck. The docks, created by the Marquis of Bute, were large enough to cater for his own exports but other coal owners found themselves having to wait - as well as pay - not only to use the docks but also to ship their raw product down the valley.

The Taff Vale Railway, the main means of shipping coal down to Cardiff, became a single line track after Pontypridd and, because of the shape of the valley, there was no possibility of extending or developing the line. Many mine owners found themselves seriously hampered by what was, in effect, a monopoly in favour of the Bute concerns.

In 1883 a group of these mine owners, headed up by the enormously wealthy and dynamic David Davies, owner of the Ocean Collieries, formed themselves into a cabal or group and sought permission to build a dock at Barry, serviced by a new railway.

The Taff Vale promptly opposed the bill and the proposal was dropped but Davies was nothing if not persistent. The following year the group was successful in gaining parliamentary permission for their enterprise.

Work began on the new dock at Barry on 14 November 1884, along with the construction of the new railway link. Everything was completed in double quick time and the dock opened for trade in 1889.

In due course, further docks were added and while exports in the first year were just one million tons, by 1903 they had multiplied to over nine million. By 1913, the year before the outbreak of World War One, Barry had surpassed both Cardiff and Penarth to become the largest coal exporting port in the country.

The docks themselves were surrounded by dozens of business enterprises, everything from repair yards and cold storage facilities to flour mills and shipping agents. Even in the 1920s, as a world-wide depression began to bite into the Welsh coal trade, there were still over 50 independent companies trading out of the docks area.

The town of Barry developed along with the docks. And, after 1884, with Barry Island connected to the mainland by a causeway, Barry became a unique combination of industrial centre and tourist destination. From the 1890s P and A Campbell ran their White Funnel paddlers from a pier in the docks and, realising the value of such an enterprise, the Barry Railway Company soon decided to run their own cruise ships from the area.

Barry From the Eric Williams collection

From the Eric Williams collection

Of course, it did not last. The inevitable collapse of the Welsh coal trade after the war left Barry and its docks stranded, without purpose or plan. The port struggled on, the arrival of the Geest Company in 1959, importing bananas from the West Indies, gave some degree of job security but when they moved out in the 1980s Barry, as a port, went into terminal decline.

Gavin and Stacey

Gavin and Stacey was filmed in Barry

These days the old waterfront has been revamped and redeveloped, like so many other dockland areas. Parts of the old docks have been used in the filming of TV shows like Doctor Who and Torchwood and, of course, the television series Gavin and Stacey was both set and, in no small degree, filmed there. Barry Island struggles on - the old Butlins Holiday Camp, centre of so much entertainment on the island, closed at the end of the 20th century but the funfair and beach remain.

Barry has a glorious history, of which its people should be proud. It faces severe challenges in the years ahead but, with fortitude and the occasional backward glance, it should be able to pull through. It is no more than the town deserves.

Welsh POW David Harries shares memories of the horrors of war

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 08:19 UK time, Friday, 11 November 2011

Eyewitness accounts from those who lived through World War Two can provide valuable historical documents for subsequent generations.

Welsh Airman David Arthur Harries, from Llandybie, Carmarthenshire, tells how he survived a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia. In spite of witnessing instances of ferocious brutality, and helplessly watching his friends die from diseases that flourished in the squalid and unsanitary conditions in the camp, David says that his life has been full of adventure.

David Arthur Harries

David Arthur Harries says that his life has been full of adventure

David decided that it was time to share his memories of the war, after being reunited with the few surviving POWs during a special function funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

1939, in search of excitement and adventure, David joined the RAF 81 Repair and Salvage Unit as an engineer. His first experience of war was during the Battle of Britain. It was David's job to repair the spitfires and hurricanes damaged during arial combat as that fought to repel the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

Later David was then posted overseas to Singapore and spent some time in the main RAF camp in the Far East known as Seleter where they built mock aircraft which were then transferred to airfields across Malaya and were used as a form of deception.

David Harries

David decided to share his memories after being reunited with other POWs

When the Japanese invaded in December 1941, his unit was moved north of Penang.

Unprepared, the Allies were unable to halt the Japanese advance and, over the following month, David's unit retreated down through the various airfields in Malaya.

"The first time you come under attack you're very frightened but you kind of get used to finding cover the best you can.

"The strafing by planes was the most horrific experience. That's when fighter aircraft would machine gun your position and do about two runs at you. The Japanese by this point had complete air control and the Brewster Buffalo planes we used to defend Malaya were very ineffective as fighter aircraft."

In retreat

David's unit finally retreated back to an RAF base called Sembawang in the north of Singapore Island, just a couple of weeks before Singapore fell in February 1942. They were then instructed that all RAF personnel were to be evacuated from Singapore to the Indonesian island of Java. David remembers:

"We got down to the docks in Singapore and we were bothered with heavy air raids from the advancing Japanese," he explains.

"Conditions were chaotic, it was pretty hectic, a lot of the city was burning and there were destroyed vehicles all over the place. I managed to get on to a small boat in the harbour which took us to Java.

Java offers short-term relief

After their frightening experiences in Singapore, Java was initially to be a far more enjoyable experience. David recalls.

"It was like peace time. They had great nightclubs, the young ladies were very friendly and we had a very enjoyable time for two or three weeks until we were ordered to proceed to Bandung to service some aircraft.

"We arrived at an airfield in Garoet but when we got there, there was no aircraft."

In March 1942 the Japanese army invaded Java. A few days later the Dutch army capitulated. David and his unit had no way of escaping the island and automatically became Prisoners of War (POWs).

Torture and executions

David and his unit were instructed to go to an airfield in Tasikmalaya where thousands of RAF personnel had assembled to be taken prisoner by the Japanese. David remembers:

"Parties were selected to work in different places of the Far East and we were sent to Malang to repair an airfield, which we did in five months.

It was in Malang that David was witnessed the brutality which lay ahead.

"Four POWs accused of trying to escape were bought back to the camp and were horribly beaten for a week by the Japanese.

"They were executed - shot in front of us all. I was only 18 at the time. It gave us an insight into the other side of the Japanese character and how ruthless they could be. The whole exercise was performed as a warning to us."

Surviving Haruku Island

In April 1943, David remained incarcerated at Jaarmarkt prison camp in Sourabaya. It was here that his grim struggle for survival really began.

A parade was formed at the camp and over 2,000 so-called 'fit' men, ie those who were not lame or seriously ill at that stage, were chosen to board ships to what was an unknown destination.

"We were eventually told that we were going to be shipped out to Haruku Island near Ambon and that we would receive light work and very good food - which of course was the exact opposite."

The men were herded on to a small ship, the Amagi Maru, where they had to endure appalling cramped and filthy conditions with limited food and water on the two-week voyage.

The group included dysentery carriers and the severe over-crowding on the ship was causing this to spread fast.

"We were packed like sardines into the hold and it took us 19 days to make a journey of three to four days.

"The guards used their bayonets to prod us forward and we realised that we were going down into the hold of the boat. There were men collapsing from heat exhaustion as the temperatures soared to about one hundred degrees and there was practically nowhere to sleep.

"I sneaked into a compartment on the deck of the ship and slept on top of some old rope. It was far more comfortable than being in the hold. In a way, I supposed I travelled first class on my own on that particular voyage compared to the others.

"I had the job of cleaning out the guard's food containers and they left some food stuck to the side, which was very different to the rice we were given. So I didn't eat so badly compared to the other people and what was surplus I shared."


Hell on Earth

It was the beginning of the raining season when they got to Haruku, where they would remain for over 16 months. David says:

"The camp consisted of a couple of shacks and we put the desperate sick in them.

"We were up to our knees in mud in the vicinity of these shacks and we slept on the earth in the pouring rain until eventually, more huts were built. When you got into these huts, the luxury would have been that you were sleeping a couple of metres from the ground so that you weren't actually sleeping on the sodden earth.

"The first few weeks on Haruku were absolutely desperate and the death rate soared. I lost a lot of good friends.

"Then we were expected to go and work on the airfield. We were given a chisel and a hammer. The airfield consisted of two small hills, the tops of which had to be removed to build the airfield. If you can imagine what you could do with those tools, the whole thing was absolutely impossible and ridiculous. By this time the dysentery and malaria rate had soared to such an extent that 90% of people were infected."

Realising they would never be able to build the airfield without fit men; the work was stopped by the Japanese. To begin with, the prisoners dug trenches to use as toilets but that just spread the disease. They eventually received permission to build a structure over the sea and by the time construction was finished, hundreds of people had died.

"The raining season stopped and out of the shambles we eventually built a very good camp which would have been horrible by anybody else's standards.

"At that time, I must have been down to six or seven stone. If you were lucky or clever, you might get on jobs where you could obtain extra food. You learnt what kind of wild vegetation was edible and you also stole from Japanese stores. You could also trade with the natives illegally. I traded tobacco for food.

"We lost around 500 people building that airfield in Haruku. During the worse periods, you would get as many as a dozen people dying in a day and you would have mass graves. When I went back 40 years later, every person had a headstone."

With good reasons, David would rather forget his 21st birthday on Haruku.

"I had my front teeth knocked out by a cruel guard we nicknamed Rat Face because of his distinctive features. I'll never forgive him for doing that.

Dodging bombs on Ambon

On 1 August 1944 the party was moved to Ambon where David worked unloading ships whilst dodging constant attacks by American bombers and fighter planes.

"We would unload cargo from a ship onto small boats and take it back to the shore. On one occasion, we were about 200 yards from the shore and I saw this P-38 American twin engine fighter coming in.

"Our boat went flat out and hit the shore. We scrambled off the boat and hid behind a tree. As we got behind the tree, the aircraft opened up and destroyed the boat. That was a close one. Every day when you were in work, there were those kinds of dangers.

"On one occasion, I was looking at an American bomber as it was flying past the boat about 50 feet away from us and one of the crew was looking at me behind a machinegun. I could see all his features for a flash as he passed - and he didn't open fire."

Back to Java

When the Americans invaded one of the neighbouring islands, the Japanese decided to retreat and take all the prisoners back to Java where their nightmare had begun.

The prisoners arrived on an island called Muna between Ambon and Makassar, where they were isolated for six months with very little food. The death rate was 50 per cent death rate due to malnutrition and disease. The only work the prisoners could do was to try and plant food to supplement their diet. If the food grew, the Japanese would take the best part of it.

The men were then taken to Makassar Island where they spent three months from April to July 1945 before heading off in a small boat back to Surabaya in Java. The war was over by this point, and after arriving in Batavia (Jakarta), on 17 August 1945, David walked out of the camp a free man. Recalling his first steps as a free man, David recalls:

"Despite warnings to the contrary, I walked out of the camp.

"It was dangerous outside because the Japanese had given the Indonesians guns and they wanted to reclaim the country back for themselves. I went out to a Dutch women's camp and I then went to get my friend Smithy from the camp and told him there was a better place outside than being stuck in the camp."

Life of Riley

"We went out and we lived the lives of riley. We didn't have much money so I went down to the docks and loaded this big American car I'd obtained with textiles and we made a pile of money.

"Eventually, we were running a night club with two bands and we entertained incoming troops. I remember an RAF officer who was attending one of the evenings we put on. He was so happy he wanted to return a favour. So, when he left for Singapore, he sent a message to my parents to tell them that I was still alive. That's the first time they had heard anything about me in five years."

"We were loaded with money and we had a fantastic time. When it got too dangerous in Java, we spent money on visiting Singapore and then went to Rangoon, Mandalay and then flew to Calcutta where they put us up in a fantastic hotel. In Calcutta, I came down with Malaria again and I decided it was about time we went home. I wanted to see more of India, so we went by train from Calcutta to Bombay travelling in first class."

A life full of adventure

In Bombay, David sent half a dozen food parcels to people that he knew in the UK because they were short of food.

"I got on a troopship and came back to the UK. On the ship, I won a boxing competition which I was surprised about given the condition I was in at the POW camp.

"My life has been full of adventure. When I got back to Liverpool, I'd practically got back to my original weight. I would say that 99% of POW's most probably wanted to go home after the war. I must have been an unnatural kind of guy. I thought to myself, I'll never see this part of the world again - I need to make the most of it."

This year the Java Far East Prisoners of War Club (FEPOW) 1942 received an award of £21,000 from the Big Lottery Fund's Heroes Return 2 programme. This helped survivors make a poignant return to the Moluccas Islands of Ambon and Haruku in Indonesia. A special reunion event was also held back in August this year in Warwickshire which 89-year-old David Harries attended.

The Big Lottery Fund is urging veterans who have not yet been able to travel on a Heroes Return 2 grant to apply now for funding under the extended scheme, which closes in January 2012.

More information and details of how to apply for a Heroes Return 2 grant are available by calling 0845 00 00 121 or visiting

The death of Dylan Thomas

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 15:10 UK time, Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Most people are aware of Dylan Thomas, the boozy "enfant terrible" of the 1940s and 50s literary scene. Like a blazing meteor the Welsh poet, story writer and broadcaster burned briefly and then left the stage, leaving only memories and a body of about ninety poems as his memorial.

Dylan Thomas at the BBC

Dylan Thomas at the BBC in November 1948

The incidents of his life are too well known to recount again, at least in any great detail, but his death in a New York hospital on 9 November 1953 has always been clouded in mystery. It is almost 60 years since that death and opinions remain divided about what exactly caused it.

Dylan Marlais Thomas was born in Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea on 27 October 1914, barely one month after the family had moved into their new house. His schooling at Swansea Grammar School, where his father was English master, was undistinguished and he left at the age of 16 to become a reporter on the South Wales Daily Post. This job he also left quickly, dedicating the rest of his life to poetry and to the simple act of becoming a poet.

There are those who say becoming a poet, acting the part so to speak, was more important to Dylan than writing poetry. However that may be when, in 1950, John Malcolm Brinnin invited him to give a series of talks, readings and lectures in America, Dylan jumped at the opportunity. America meant big money, superb hospitality - at a time when Britain was still suffering the effects of wartime austerity - and plenty of idolisation from college students, usually girls.

Over the next three years, Dylan Thomas made four trips to the USA, arriving for his final tour - and the first readings of his verse play "Under Milk Wood" - on 19 October 1953.

Dylan was, by this time, already ill but the cause of that illness remains unclear. Yes, he drank but, despite popular opinion he did not drink excessively. When a post mortem was carried out after his death it showed little damage to the liver or signs of cirrhosis - something you would expect to find with a heavy drinker.

Already the victim of blackouts or fainting spells, when he arrived in New York to take part in a performance of "Under Milk Wood" he was forced to use an inhaler to help him with his breathing. The air pollution that year was particularly bad and by the end of the month over 200 New Yorkers had died from the effects of the smog. Dylan, with his congenitally weak constitution and chest, was an obvious victim to that smog.

What happened next is all part of the Dylan Thomas legend. And what a legend it was! Attending one of his readings was, to the Americans, as much a matter of expectation as it was listening to the great man's voice. Would he swear or fall off the stage in a drunken stupor? Would he collapse or maybe even die in front of their eyes? It was all part of the experience.

Coming back into what is now JFK airport after some time out of New York, Dylan was met by Liz Reitell, Brinnin's assistant and Dylan's lover. And, to her, it was instantly clear he was seriously unwell. The following day, on 29th October he decided to stay in bed, remaining all day in his room at the Chelsea Hotel. It required two injections from the mercurial Dr Feltenstein, brought in by his supporters, before he announced that he felt better.

On 3 November Dylan was again confined to bed for the day but he did rouse himself to venture out that night. When he returned to the hotel room he supposedly told Liz Reitell his famous line - "I've had eighteen straight whiskeys, I think that's the record." It's highly unlikely that he consumed anything close to this quantity. If Dylan had drunk eighteen straight whiskeys, American measures, it would probably have killed him then and there.

On 5 November, Dr Feltenstein was again called in and administered more injections - seemingly his main course of treatment. Just after midnight, however, Dylan experienced serious breathing difficulties. His face turned blue and Reitell, now seriously concerned, called for an ambulance. Dylan Thomas, already in a coma, was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital.

He never recovered consciousness, dying at noon on 9 November. The American writer John Berryman was in the room as the Welsh poet breathed his last and Dylan's wife Caitlin - who had arrived, apparently, shouting "Is that bloody man dead yet?" - had to be restrained and admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

In the wake of his death all sorts of rumours and speculation began to spread - Dylan had died from a drinks or drugs overdose, he had been mugged, he had diabetes. And so on. The official prognosis was that he died from a swelling of the brain caused by pneumonia and poor oxygen supply. The part played by Dr Feltenstein and his "winking needle" was not mentioned.

Dylan's body was brought back to Wales and he was buried in the churchyard at Laugharne on 29 November 1953. The day of the funeral was one of hysteria and heavy drinking, as Thomas would probably have wanted.

The final message from the day, however, is one of dark humour that Dylan would certainly have appreciated. The funeral directors had dressed up his body, even down to equipping him with a gaudy bow tie. As one of Dylan's friends remarked "Dylan wouldn't have been seen dead in that tie."

Read more on the remarkable life of Dylan Thomas on the BBC Wales Arts website and explore their Dylan Thomas random poem generator.

Donald Houston, great Welsh actor

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 14:34 UK time, Monday, 7 November 2011

Wales has produced many fine actors over the years, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Stanley Baker to name just three. But something of a forgotten man - someone who, in his own way, was as effective and popular as any of them - was Rhondda boy Donald Houston.

Portrait of actor Donald Houston from 1971

Portrait of actor Donald Houston from 1971

Born at 10 Thomas Street, Tonypandy, on Tuesday 6 November 1923, Donald Houston was the son of a professional footballer who hailed, not from Wales but from Scotland. His mother Elsie ran the local milk round and when Houston left school, like so many of his contemporaries, he was bound for a life in the coal mines of the Rhondda.

After a brief spell working underground at the Glamorganshire mine, Donald Houston decided to chance his arm and attend an audition for actors that was being held at the Llwynypia Boys Club. He had always been interested in acting and his charm and good looks, he reasoned, would hold him in good stead. However, even he must have been shocked at the result of the audition. He was immediately taken on by the travelling rep company and his life as an actor had begun.

Despite his clear valley roots, Donald had the ability to "do accents." He could speak in his normal Welsh tones or he could just as easily deliver his lines in a clipped and precise English voice - just listen to him as he plays opposite Burton and Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare to see how effective his control of accent really was.

Houston began his film career in The Blue Lagoon, with Jean Simmons as his fellow castaway on a deserted island. The film came out in 1949 and was the hit of the year, immediately propelling Donald to stardom.

Instant fame and adulation were something he did not want, however. He could so easily have remained as a matinée idol - certainly the film fans who flocked to see the picture in the austere post-war days would have welcomed that - but Donald Houston knew that such fame was transient and that people who built a career on such flimsy foundations did not last long in the movie business. He wanted to make a proper career out of acting.

Donald Houston preferred the role of character actor, despite achieving another enormous success with Run For Your Money (also in 1949) where he played alongside another "big name," Sir Alec Guiness. Shunning huge starring parts, Donald seemed to be at his happiest in supporting roles, taking on nuggety parts that demanded his full concentration but which, if played properly, could easily steal the picture.

Over the years he appeared in many well-known and popular films. These ranged from cameo roles in The Longest Day (again with Richard Burton) and Yangste Incident to significant parts in Room At The Top and 300 Spartans. He enjoyed playing military characters, his upright bearing and clear diction seeming to lend themselves to the roles but was also more than adept at comedy. He appeared in two of the hugely popular 'Doctor' films, all the rage in the 50s and early 60s, and in the 1963 comedy 'Carry on Jack'.

In a career that spanned 40 years, Donald Houston appeared alongside many household names, people like Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. He made films in Hollywood and in Britain and was also quite at home on television. His TV credits included dramas such as Danger Man, The Protectors and the mini-series Moonbase 3.

Ralph Bates as Michel Lebrun , Fiona Gaunt as Helen Smith , Donald Houston as David Caulder and Barry Lowe as Tom Hill

Moonbase 3: Ralph Bates as Michel Lebrun , Fiona Gaunt as Helen Smith , Donald Houston as David Caulder and Barry Lowe as Tom Hill

Perhaps his most memorable role, however, was as one of the traitors in Richard Burton's 1968 war film Where Eagles Dare. Such was the power of Houston's performance that it is almost impossible not to have a degree of sympathy for his character - and really only a minor character, at that - as he battles with Burton on the roof of the cable car and eventually falls to his death many hundreds of feet below.

Married to Brenda Hogan, Donald Houston had a successful professional and personal life. His younger brother Glyn also became a distinguished actor but neither of the brothers ever forgot their place of origin.

Soon after his death, Donald was accorded the honour of a Blue Plaque on the wall of the house where he was born, a fitting tribute to a fine actor and a distinguished Welshman. He died on 13 October 1991 at his home in Portugal.

One of his last films was Clash Of The Titans, a fantasy adventure made 10 years before his death. It was a cameo role in a film designed to appeal to children and adults alike, one where enjoyment was equally as important as critical acclaim - exactly how Donald Houston wanted his career to be remembered.

The Landshipping mining disaster

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 10:12 UK time, Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Here in Wales we are used to news about mining disasters. The history of Welsh mining is littered with tragic accidents that scarred villages and valleys, destroyed families and cut a swathe through the life of so many tiny communities.

Garden Pit Memorial

Garden Pit Memorial (image: Roger MacCallum)

Most of those disasters took place in the industrial belt of the south east, in the Rhondda and other valleys. For many modern-day visitors to beautiful, sea-girt Pembrokeshire it comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to realise that this tiny county in the far west of Wales also once had a mining industry. And the Pembrokeshire coalfield was not exempt from disaster.

On 14 February 1844, 58 men, women and boys were working in Garden Pit at Landshipping on the eastern branch of the Cleddau River when disaster struck.

The pit workings extended out under the river, and when water suddenly burst through the walls of the mine 40 miners were overwhelmed and drowned before they had time to escape.

There had been mining in the area since the Middle Ages but, in the main, this was low-key and seasonal, the mines being worked by agricultural labourers in the quieter times of year. Then, in 1800, Sir Hugh Owen installed the first steam engine in the Pembrokeshire coalfield, at his mine in Landshipping, and the industry transformed itself into an altogether different beast.

Soon, over 10,000 tons of coal and culm were being produced each year. By 1844 Colonel Sir John Owen had succeeded to the estate and quickly developed the infrastructure needed for such an enterprise. In particular he built a quay at Landshipping from which most of the coal was shipped to a wide variety of destinations.

Garden Pit, like several of the mines around the Cleddau, suffered badly from waterlogging, but even so the shaft was still some 67 yards deep and most of the workings ran out for as much as a quarter of a mile beneath the river.

The level where the disaster occurred had not been worked for two or three years as miners had reported a significant leak in the roof of the tunnel. However, in February 1844 it was considered safe to again open the workings and, on the afternoon of 14 February, 58 miners were employed in digging for coal and transporting the product back to the pit shaft.

The first inkling that something was wrong came when, just before 4pm, a powerful current of air suddenly shot up the shaft. It was powerful enough to force the hands and arms of men working on the surface high into the air.

Then spectators noticed a series of violent eddies, almost like whirlpools, in the water close to shore. The next thing they knew, several miners appeared at the bottom of the shaft, screaming for assistance.

Four men and 14 boys were quickly hoisted up the shaft in the buckets that normally carried the coal, swirling water pulling at their boot tops as, behind them, the pit filled up at a rate of seven fathoms a minute. Nobody else managed to get out, 40 miners being drowned or crushed in the fall of rock and mud that accompanied the flooding.

One miner later gave an account of his escape and this was paraphrased in the local press:

"He was overtaken by the water, which almost prevented his progress, dashing him several times against the side of the pit; when he got into the light he rushed past another man who was about to get into the bucket, and was hauled to safety, the water following him so closely that the next and last man was only saved by climbing up the side of the pit, until the bucket which descended to the other was raised, reached him."

The water had broken into Garden Pit relatively close to the shore, cutting off 33 miners working at the far end of the pit. The horror of such a death can only be imagined.

The other seven casualties, men and children working nearer the shore, had been overtaken by the deluge before they could get out.

The cause of the disaster was put down to the pressure of the water - that particular heading had not, previously, been worked at high water. But in those days there were no mining inspectors to check on aspects of safety; some reports say the miners had already left the pit once that day because they were concerned about safety, only to be sent back to finish their shifts.

Close up of the Garden Pit Memorial

The names, where known, of those who perished in the disaster are listed on the memorial (image: Roger MacCallum)

The real tragedy of the disaster, of course, was the human one. Many of the dead miners were related to each other and one of the most heart rending facts about reading the memorial plaque, erected by local people in 2002, is how often the same names occur - Llewellin, Picton, Davies, Cole, Hart and John. One man, Joseph Picton, died along with three of his sons, leaving behind a widow and five more children.

Several of the names on the memorial plaque say simply "Miner" - these were probably women, employed and killed in the disaster even though legislation preventing their employment below ground had recently been passed in parliament. Other names on the plaque give ages as low as nine or 11. In one case a person is listed simply as "child".

The disaster at Garden Pit, Landshipping, has been largely forgotten by history. But it remains just one more terrible tragedy in an industry that has taken such an horrendous toll of life, right across Wales.

Techniquest celebrates 25 years

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 15:30 UK time, Tuesday, 1 November 2011

This November, Techniquest - one of Cardiff's best known and best loved visitor attractions - celebrates 25 years of existence. It is an amazing achievement for what is now the longest running purpose-built science centre in the United Kingdom.

Techniquest is keen for children to engage with science

Techniquest, the brainchild of Professor John Beetlestone and several other colleagues on the staff of Cardiff University, was founded in 1985. Wales, and Cardiff in particular, had always had its fair share of museums and art galleries, but an establishment specialising in science was something different.

From the beginning Techniquest had the avowed intention of helping people from all walks of life - adults and, in particular, children - to engage with science and not view it as something alien or outside their knowledge and area of interest.

Never intended to be a series of static exhibits in glass cases, this was to be a hands-on experience. The interactive exhibits and science programmes were meant to appeal to both eye and instinct, and to draw people into an exciting and innovative world.

Techniquest first location

Techniquest was originally located in the centre of Cardiff

The original site for Techniquest was in the centre of Cardiff, in the old gas showrooms opposite Cardiff Castle. This was only intended as a temporary home and in 1988, three years after its founding, Techniquest moved to Cardiff Bay. This new site was a prefabricated industrial complex and soon over 100 exhibits were open to the public. From this base Techniquest also began its programme of educational visits for schools.

Techniquest moved to Cardiff bay in 1988

In 1988 Techniquest moved to Cardiff Bay

In 1995 the centre was again on the move, this time locating to its present site. The firm of ABK Architects designed Techniquest around the core of an old heavy engineering factory and the first purpose-built science centre in the UK began its work in earnest. As well as offering a wide range of exhibits and experiences at its Cardiff base, Techniquest gradually developed and now also offers exhibits and science programmes to museums and visitor attractions around the world.

Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry visited Techniquest in 1994

Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry visited Techniquest in 1994.

It is estimated that over 200,000 people visit Techniquest every year - and that's not counting the Wrexham branch of the enterprise.

The hands-on, interactive nature of the centre provides a perfect learning environment for children and adults alike, so much so that in 1999 Techniquest exhibits were awarded Millennium Product Status by the Design Council of the UK. The centre also offers a planetarium and a science theatre for use by children during the school holidays.

Wales has always had strong links with the field of science, breeding men such as the meteorologist Inigo Jones who emigrated to Australia in 1874 and became interested in the weather while working on the family farm in North Queensland.

There are so many others, men like Evan Pierce, the doctor who fought a cholera outbreak in Denbigh and became medical advisor to Queen Victoria. Then there was Alfred Wallace, born in Usk. He was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and was actually acknowledged by Darwin as the co-founder of the theory of natural selection. Robert Recorde is well known and highly regarded as a mathematician, a man from humble beginnings in Tenby who published the first English language book on algebra and is now recognised as the man who invented the equals sign.

In more modern times Dr Lyn Evans, born in Aberdare, recently became the leader of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern. Built by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the collider lies beneath the French-Swiss border, its aim being to simulate and recreate the conditions that existed one fraction of a second after the "big bang" that brought life to the planet.

Other Welsh scientists of note include people such as Sir Granville Beynon, operating in the field of physics of the ionosphere, Professor Diane Edwards (the investigation of fossil plants) and Dr Pam Lewis (nuclear magnetic resonance). There are many, many more.

Techniquest, with its innovative and exhilarating approach to a subject that might otherwise appeal only to a limited few, has undoubtedly stimulated an interest right across the country. Twenty five years have been well spent - here's to the next!

Keep up to date with all the latest news and events celebrating 25 years of Techniquest on their special anniversary website.

Take a look at our Techniquest gallery on the BBC Wales website.

The secret life of Bletchley code-breaker Mair Russell Jones

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 10:29 UK time, Tuesday, 1 November 2011

BBC Wales News reports on the incredible secret life of 94-four-year-old Mair Russell Jones.

Mair Russell Jones

Mair Russell Jones remembers her code-breaking days at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes

For over 50 years Mair kept quiet about her wartime work which helped to hasten the end of World War Two by anything up to four years.

Mair features in a BBC Wales Documentary on the unsung heroes of the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS). One of an elite group of code breakers, Mair was selected to serve at Bletchley Park.

In 1941, Mair from Pontycymmer, was an ordinary 23-year-old, studying for a degree in music, Welsh and German at Cardiff University. She had a boyfriend and harboured ambitions to become a teacher or professional pianist.

One day Mair felt a tap on the shoulder from a gentleman who'd noted her ability with languages and puzzles. Remembering the event, Mair said:

"He told me he was from the Foreign Office - and so I've always just said I worked for the Foreign Office during the war - but of course he was really from MI6."

"He said he'd heard I was very good with languages and puzzles, and would I like to try out for a top-secret project.

"A few of us went on the train up to Bletchley, had an interview and did some tests, and the next thing I knew I was in a hut miles away from home, trying to interpret Enigma cyphers."

Read the full account of Mair's code-breaking days at Bletchley Park on the BBC Wales News website.

Code Breakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes can be seen on the BBC iPlayer until Saturday 5 November 2011

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