Archives for July 2012

July 1942: enemy action over Pwllheli

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 11:00 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2012

Britain might have been totally unprepared for war in 1939 but within a relatively short space of time the country's economy had been placed on a war footing. Slowly but surely things began to change.

The defeat of the German air armada in the Battle of Britain during the summer and autumn of 1940 is well known. Without that victory Britain would almost certainly have been defeated. Thereafter, Germany turned to night bomber raids in an attempt to pummel Britain to her knees. But, to some extent at least, the British had learned their lesson and now the attacking bombers found they would not get their own way.

By the end of 1941 there were 23 night fighter squadrons operating around the coast, as well as numerous anti-aircraft guns, searchlight batteries and so on. One of the best night fighter units was No 456 Squadron, operating out of Valley aerodrome on Anglesey.

Defending industrial ports

On 27 March 1942 Wing Commander EC Wolfe was appointed CO of the squadron. He was an experienced and capable pilot who was determined that his aircraft would play their part in helping to defend ports and industrial cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham.

On the night of 30 July 1942 Wolfe was flying a Bristol Beaufighter over the Irish Sea and Cardigan Bay, hunting for enemy raiders. With him in the two-seater fighter was Pilot Officer EA Ashcroft.

Two radar contacts were made, the first with an enemy Junkers 88. To Wolfe's annoyance the German plane managed to slip away in the darkness. The second contact, however, yielded much better pickings. As Wolfe later wrote in his combat report: "I obtained a visual at 2,000 feet range and identified the aircraft as a HE 111, the exhausts on each side of the engines being very apparent" (quoted in Fighter Command 1942).

The German Heinkel bomber was one of several on their way to attack Birmingham but had, obviously, become separated from the rest of the force. Wolfe immediately closed the range and opened fire. Two quick bursts were enough to make the pilot drop his bomb load which fell harmlessly into the sea.

Wing Commander Wolfe again: "No return fire resulted, the upper gunner having been shot through the head, the pilot's controls lost and the port engine put out of action during the first burst delivered." (quoted in Fighter Command 1942)

After another few bursts of machine gun fire, flames were seen to flicker from underneath the Heinkel. Wolfe later said that he thought the port engine of the bomber fell off - he saw something dark dropping away from the fuselage and, certainly, one engine was missing when the wrecked aircraft was later examined.

The Heinkel now went into a vertical dive from about 2,000 feet and crashed onto the beach at Pwllheli, very close to the fairways of the town golf club.

Heinkel casualties

Opinions vary as to the casualties. It is commonly believed that three men perished in the crash but the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales claims only two.

The gunner, in his position at the top of the fuselage, was killed by Wolfe's opening burst of fire. The observer, Horst Vogl, was also killed while attempting to parachute to safety - his parachute became entangled with the tail of the doomed aircraft and he was dragged to his death.

Johann Hesketh, the radio operator, did manage to get out of the diving Heinkel and landed in the sea with two broken legs. He was rescued by a local fisherman. The pilot, Dirk Hofles, also baled out and he was quickly taken prisoner and marched off to captivity.

In many respects the combat fought by Wolfe and Ashcroft with their German opponents on the night of 30 July 1942 - 70 years ago now - was no different from many other such engagements in the skies above Britain during World War Two and Wales, certainly, saw its fair share of action during the war years.

In 1942 alone, no fewer than eight crashes took place on or above the Welsh countryside. Several of these were British aircraft, brought down by accident or bad weather. But others, like the Junkers 88 that crashed into a hill side just outside Builth Wells in April that year, were as a result of fighter involvement, proof positive - if any were needed - that Britain had at last become prepared to fight a long and bitter war.

The Welsh language Act of 1967

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 13:40 UK time, Thursday, 26 July 2012

There have been many important acts of parliament relating to Wales over the years but none was more significant than the 1967 Welsh Language Act - not so much because of what it said, more for what it symbolised. The act was passed and became law 45 years ago on 27 July 1967, a significant and vitally important date in Welsh history.

The 1967 act was, effectively, the beginning of a process and the smashing away of old, out of date legislation that dated back to the time of the Tudors. It gave rights, albeit limited, that allowed people to use the Welsh language in legal proceedings in Wales - something that had been denied to them for centuries.

The act also allowed the appropriate and relevant government ministers to authorise Welsh versions or translations of any documents required by the act. And, importantly, the fourth section of the act repealed part of the Wales and Berwick Act of 1746, a section that stated the term English should be used, apply to and include Wales as well as England.

Hughes Parry Report

The 1967 act was based upon part of the Hughes Parry Report (1965), although it did not include all of the report's recommendations. The report had advocated equal importance and significance, in both writing and speech, for Welsh and English in the court system.

The significance of the 1967 Welsh Language Act lay in the fact that English - and only English - had, since the Acts of Union in 1536, been used in the law courts, totally ignoring the fact that most people in Wales in the 16th and 17th centuries spoke Welsh. Very few had any real understanding of English.

Obviously things changed with the industrialisation of the country. It did not hide the basic iniquity of a system that effectively prevented Welsh men and women using their natural and native tongue. Now, however, the new act put Welsh and English on equal terms in public life.

Welsh Courts Act 1942

There had been some slackening of legislation in 1942 when the Welsh Courts Act allowed defendants and plaintiffs appearing in court to use Welsh if they were being disadvantaged by having to speak English. Such a disadvantage had, of course, to be proved and then there was the problem of finding a judge or magistrate who understood the Welsh language. The 1967 act, however, was a much more robust and useful piece of legislation.

It had been passed only after extensive campaigning by members of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Language Society; the latter organisation came into existence following Saunders Lewis' seminal 1962 radio broadcast Tynged yr Iaith ("the fate of the language").

The act did not please everyone, particularly the more militant language campaigners who saw it as toothless. They continued to campaign and in 1982 the Welsh Language Society published their manifesto. An aggressive and virulent campaign of protest began, including a series of cottage burnings and the painting out of English language signs.

Eventually, in 1993, a new Welsh Language Act was passed, giving far more importance to the Welsh language. Significantly, however, it could never have been passed had it not been for the revolutionary 1967 act - something that tends to be forgotten today.

From Cardiff Arms Park to the Millennium Stadium

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 11:05 UK time, Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Out of all the international sporting arenas in the world, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium has to be the most convenient and one of the most iconic. It sits on the banks of the River Taff in the centre of the city.

It is an ideal location that makes a visit to Cardiff special every time the Six Nations Championship is held. People come for the rugby and the celebrations - or commiserations - afterwards. Yet what many visitors don't realise is that the ground also sits in an area that has always had important social and historical connections.

Millennium Stadium. Photo © Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Millennium Stadium. Photo © Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The original sports ground - and it was "sports", not just rugby - was named after an old hotel that used to exist on the spot where the Angel Hotel sits today. The original Cardiff Arms Hotel was knocked down in the late 1870s but its name lived on in the shape of the wide tract of open land that was once just a stone's throw from its front door.

The land, like many of the open spaces around Cardiff, was owned by the Marquess of Bute and, due to his munificence, was used for all types of activity, from parades and shows to concerts and, most importantly of all, for sports events.

A home for cricket

Cricket was the first major sport played on the land but any real development of the area was hampered by the fact that it lay so close to the Taff and was, therefore, always liable to flooding whenever there was anything like a heavy downpour.

A plan to take out the bend in the river - in all fairness, to suit the requirements of the Great Western Railway rather than to develop the sports facilities - resulted in the GWR's chief engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel adding one more to his list of major achievements. The work was finished by 1853 and the scene was set for Cardiff Arms Park to start really developing.

The growth of rugby as a major sport in Wales dates to the 1870s, the Welsh Rugby Football Union being established in 1881. Soon the Arms Park was home to Cardiff Rugby Club and, increasingly, to the Welsh team as well. In the early days, international matches were played at various venues in Wales, in particular at St Helen's in Swansea, but gradually - as Cardiff's importance as a port and trading centre increased - the Arms Park came to be seen as the real home of Welsh rugby.

Cardiff City leave for Ninian Park

As well as rugby and cricket, soccer was also played at Cardiff Arms Park. Not until 1910, when Cardiff City created their pitch at Ninian Park, did soccer finally leave the ground.

New stands were built in 1885 but flooding was still a regular hazard and in the final decade of the 19th century new drains were laid in an attempt - not really successful - to solve the problem. It did not stop the ground, and the sport of rugby, becoming increasingly popular. When Wales entered their first "Golden Era" at the beginning of the 20th century the national team was undefeated at the Arms Park for 12 years.

The 1930s were a difficult time for Wales and for the Arms Park. Yet, somehow, they struggled through. For a while there was talk of the Welsh Rugby Union leaving the ground and decamping to Bridgend but, in the end, it came to nothing and, instead, the decision was made to revamp Cardiff Arms Park. New stands were built, including a brand new North Stand as well as new changing rooms for the players.

Bomb damage

It was too good to last and in 1939 the outbreak of World War Two brought more problems for the Arms Park. The ground was seriously damaged during an air raid by German bombers on 2 January 1941, the North Stand being totally destroyed as well as bits of the South Stand and West Terrace. It was not until the early 1950s that the damaged stands were finally replaced. Perhaps more importantly, several of the drains under the pitch were also destroyed and this led, once again, to serious problems with mud, water and flooding in the post-war years.

Despite this, in 1953 the WRU made the announcement that, in future, all home international matches for Wales would be played at Cardiff Arms Park. And it was not just rugby. For the 1958 Empire Games the Arms Park acted as an athletics ground with a cinder track - state of the art facilities back in the 1950s - being built around the rugby pitch.

Cardiff Arms Park, taken in 1999. Photo © Nicholas Mutton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Cardiff Arms Park, taken in 1999. Photo © Nicholas Mutton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Since 1922, when the 4th Marquess of Bute sold the land to the Cardiff Arms Park Company for just £30,000, the Arms Park had been given to Cardiff Athletic Club on a 99 year lease. For a while both international and Cardiff sides continued to use the same pitch but, in 1962, a decision was made to split the Arms Park into two distinct grounds, one for international games, the other for use by Cardiff RFC.

With Cardiff's ground now located on what was once the county cricket pitch, Glamorgan Cricket Club moved into a new home at nearby Sophia Gardens. Cardiff Athletic Club surrendered their lease to the WRU and a debenture scheme was launched to fund the project, enabling debenture holders to buy match tickets for the next 50 years.

Millennium Stadium

It took almost 17 years for the new National Stadium to become a reality. And then, within a dozen years the new ground was already dated and, in the eyes of some, unsafe. Consequently, yet another new development was proposed.

This was for the revolutionary Millennium Stadium, a facility that cost somewhere in the region of £150 million and would, when completed, provide Wales with state of the art sporting facilities. The finished stadium had a fully retractable roof and turf that could be grown in pallets to enable easy replacement of damaged grass.

With the new stands only partially finished, the first match at the Millennium Stadium was against South Africa. Wales duly won by 29 points to 19, a suitably fortuitous result. The stadium went on to host matches in two Rugby World Cups. For a short period at least, Cardiff Blues - as they had become known - moved out of the Arms Park to play at the Cardiff City Stadium but an announcement in May 2012 pleased most true rugby (and Cardiff) fans - Cardiff would be returning to the Arms Park.

Since its opening the Millennium Stadium has hosted concerts, football matches and boxing tournaments and is regarded as one of the finest entertainment and sporting venues in the world.

It is all a very far cry from the early days of Cardiff Arms Park when players had to change in the hotel across the road and, if it should happen to rain, spectators and players alike slowly sank into a wet and smelly bog.

Strata Florida Abbey

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 08:00 UK time, Monday, 23 July 2012

The ruins of Strata Florida Abbey lie close to the Ceredigion town of Tregaron, deep in rural solemnity and with almost no hint of the importance the place once held.

Strata Florida

Strata Florida (© Miss Steel, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Little remains of what was once a huge and famous place of worship but there is just enough to enable visitors to feel the presence of a long-gone world and way of life. And with excavation still continuing, who knows what may yet be uncovered?

The abbey - Ystrad Fflw in Welsh - was founded in 1164, and the abbey church was consecrated in 1201. The name is a derivation of the Welsh, meaning valley of flowers and of a nearby river, the Fflwr.

Founded by monks from Whitland Abbey to the south east, this was a Cistercian House, established when the so-called White Monks were rapidly establishing their power base. The abbey initially came under the patronage of the earls of Pembroke but in the 13th century control passed into the hands of the owners of nearby Dinefwr Castle. As such, the famous Lord Rhys was one of the main patrons of the abbey.

The Cistercians were a wealthy order and they quickly acquired farms or holdings - granges as they were known - across the immediate area. These served to bring in extra wealth to what was rapidly becoming a major ecclesiastical site.

So important was the abbey at Strata Florida that Llywelyn ap Iorwerth - Llywelyn the Great as he was known - held a council of Welsh princes here, persuading them to acknowledge his son Dafydd as their rightful leader. Of course, once Llywelyn was dead, the princes simply reneged and started quarreling amongst themselves again. It was simply the fact that Llywelyn had chosen to bring them all to Strata Florida that made the occasion - and the place - special.

Strata Florida was a military base for King Henry IV during the Owain Glyndwr rebellion; the king expelled any monks who had supported Glyndwr. He then proceeded to plunder the abbey. It was again a military base during campaigns against the Welsh in 1407 and 1415.

Strata Florida, like the other abbeys and monasteries of Britain, suffered during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, and was dissolved in the 1540s. The refectory and dormitory were converted into a gentleman's house and much of the stone from the other buildings was taken away by local farmers and land owners.

The abbey lay, largely forgotten, until the coming of the railway in the 19th century. Then, in what was really an early tourist boom, people flocked to see the ruins and Strata Florida began what was, literally, a second life.

By then, of course, it was in a pretty disheveled state. The only substantial structure was the Great West Door to the abbey church but there were enough low walls left intact for people to gain some idea of what the place had once looked like. A series of medieval tiles, complete with decoration, was always popular with visitors, the most famous of these showing a man preening himself and studying his reflection in a mirror - vanity, it seemed, was not just a modern invention.

These days the ruins are overseen by Cadw and while there is still an archaeological dig going on, the graveyard is also still operational. Many people opt to be buried in close proximity to the 11 princes of Dinefwr who are also buried here and, of course, to the remains of the famous Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwily, which also lie in the graveyard.

According to legend, Dafydd ap Gwilym is buried under a famous oak tree in the graveyard. The tree has withstood tempest and storm, even being hit by lightning on several occasions. Dafydd ap Gwilym sleeps on, regardless.

In its day, Strata Florida was a famous place of religion and learning. The Brut y Tywysogion, one of the earliest works of Welsh history, was said to have been compiled there, presumably by one of the abbey monks. Now, the abbey lies desolate and abandoned in a sleepy and quiet part of Wales, its peaceful nature totally belying the immensity of its history.

The Sunday school movement

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 08:13 UK time, Sunday, 22 July 2012

For many people living in Wales, childhood was marked by two special events - the children's matinée at the town picture house each Saturday and, a day later, attendance at Sunday school in the local church or chapel.

Sunday school was not a Welsh invention but it certainly gained a hold in many, if not most, Welsh communities. For years, no Sunday would ever be complete without the sight of throngs of young children wending their way, perhaps unhappily, perhaps with more than a degree of resignation, towards the local Sunday School - leaving their parents to a few hours peace and contemplation.

Italian origin

The original idea for schools on a Sunday came from Italy in the 16th century but the notion soon spread. In Britain, the first Sunday school opened in Nottingham in 1751 but it was with the fertile imagination of Robert Raikes, editor of the Gloucester Journal, that the movement really took hold.

By the end of the 18th century Britain - and Wales in particular - was in the grip of the Industrial Revolution and children were a valuable commodity, working in the mines and factories, squeezing their tiny bodies into spaces that adults could not hope to reach. There was no legislation to protect them and children as young as five or six were employed by rapacious mine and factory owners. Education for these youngsters was a concept that simply did not exist.

Raikes was appalled by the conditions these young people had to endure. Education, he knew, could be the saving factor. Lack of it could only mean disaster and degradation.

In his newspaper, Raikes advocated the opening of schools on Sundays - the only day away from their toil that the children were allowed - in order to teach them to read and write. He quickly gained the support of many clergymen and a system of education, long before the state even contemplated such a notion, suddenly burst into existence.

The aim was to teach reading, writing and Bible study. Raikes opened his first school in 1781 and just four years later it was estimated that 250,000 children across Britain were attending Sunday school each week. The Sunday Schools were cross denominational and, thanks to subscriptions and clever fund raising, soon every community in the country had its share of large and imposing Sunday school buildings.

It was not all sweetness and light, however. The Methodists, in particular, often pulled out the members of their congregations and established their own Sunday schools. With government legislation beginning to limit the amount of hours children could work, the Anglican Church soon decided to create their own National School system, a series of schools that could offer education both on Sundays and in the week.

Society for the Establishment and Provision of Sunday Schools

In Wales there were clear links between the Sunday school movement - the Society for the Establishment and Provision of Sunday Schools - and the Circulating schools of Griffith Jones. Later, Thomas Charles of Bala took the lead, actively promoting the idea of schools on Sundays.

Men and women were equally as welcome as children in these Welsh sunday schools where the emphasis was not just on Bible knowledge. Public speaking and proper, informed debate on topics of interest to all were also on offer. Many of the late 19th and early 20th century leaders of the country - political, social and religious - gained their grounding in the essential art of addressing an audience and were nurtured in the Welsh sunday schools.

1870 Education Act

The passing of John Forster's 1870 Education Act - legislation that effectively created state run schools for the first time in British history - meant that the world had suddenly altered. Now, if they wanted to survive, the role of Sunday schools would have to change.

No longer was there a need to educate the children of the poor, the state would now take on this task, and so by the end of World War One Sunday schools had become something akin to the type of establishments we see today. Bible study, sports, drama groups and concert parties soon became the norm for most Sunday schools.

And yet, despite this enforced change, the period 1870 to the end of the 1930s was something of a golden era for Welsh Sunday schools. The schools embraced their new role. Despite the horrors of the Depression, they happily gave children and young people an interesting and enjoyable interlude in a world of drudgery and deprivation.

Annual Sunday school trip

The annual Sunday school trip to places like Barry Island or Porthcawl were often the only chance children from the mining valleys would have to paddle in the sea or sit on the sands. Christmas concerts were looked forward to all year round. The Sunday Schools may have been forced to change direction but they were still playing an active and valuable role in Welsh life.

Most churches and chapels still run Sunday schools, often under different names or even with a different set of aims. But we should all remember how Sunday schools began - as a way of educating children who would otherwise never have been able to read and write.

Hunting Twylia

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Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 09:00 UK time, Saturday, 21 July 2012

Back in April 2012 I received an email from a lady called Kathy in Newport, after appearing on BBC Radio Wales' Jamie & Louise programme.

Kathy and her husband Stuart met in Singapore in the 1950s. She was stationed there while working as a telephonist in the WRAF and he was in the RAF. Kathleen Dymond and Stuart MacKay married at Changi in 1959 and their bridesmaid was Kathy's best friend Twylia Worlund.


Where are you Twylia?

Twylia was an American working in the naval department at the American Embassy. Kathy and Stuart haven't seen or heard from her in over 50 years. As time has passed, address books were lost and different continents crossed.

Kathy looked upon Twylia as a sister and was very keen to find out what had happened to her, which is why she asked me for help.

Kathy thought Twylia was the same age as her, so born around 1937. She might have been from a small town, in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, and her first name may have been of Welsh origin. But Kathy quickly added that they were far too busy having fun at the time to talk about home or their families!

As usual I leapt at the chance, simply assuming that it would be easy with such an unusual name, even though Kathy wasn't too sure about the correct spelling of Worlund.

How wrong could I be?

Worldwide access on did not throw up any immediately obvious candidates, which can often be the case with American research if you don't know the state and other more specific details. There was also nothing on the family trees posted online or on Genes Reunited.

I did find a Twylia Dailey who died in Winsconsin in 1998, but she was born in 1973, which was far too young for our Twylia.

So I turned to Google for help and quickly found two very relevant and helpful organisations.

First I sent an email to the RAF Changi Association. Alongside their email addresses and rank and trade, they had very helpfully given the dates of when they were based at Changi and I could see that several of the key members had been stationed there between 1957 and 1959, which fitted perfectly with Kathy and Stuart's dates.

Their reply was instant and positive: "This is what the RAF Changi Association is all about, trying to connect old comrades with one another, bringing them together and others with reunions," they said.

They agreed to post some photos that Kathy had sent me of her 21st birthday held at Changi RAF base in 1958.

Kathy's 21st Birthday Party

Kathleen Dymond, Twylia Worlund, Elaine (surname unknown but an American) and Paddy McNamee (later Mitchell)

Memories of Singapore organisation offered a similar service and so I jumped at the chance to spread the search for Twylia further. Their site contains many photographs and images contributed by people who lived in Singapore during the 1960s and early 70s, including a section on RAF Changi.

But I still can't for the life of me find Twylia and I need help.

Perhaps you recognise the other people in the photographs and maybe, just maybe, they can lead us to Twylia.

Ronald M Mitchell AKA

Left to right : Ronald M Mitchell AKA "Mitch", Kathy, "Mo" Mosely and Stuart Mackay. Mo & Mitch were part of the security guard detail at the US Consulate.

Please contact me if you know where Twylia is now or if you think you can help in any way.

Cat will be joining Jamie and Louise on BBC Radio Wales on Tuesday 24 July 2012 from 9am.

Porthcawl: from industrial port to holiday resort

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 14:33 UK time, Friday, 20 July 2012

The town of Porthcawl on the Glamorganshire coast seems to be a sleepy little seaside resort. But in its prime the place was first a centre for the export of agricultural and industrial products and, later, one of the premier holiday destinations in south Wales.

The town that we see today sits on a low limestone headland, almost exactly midway between Cardiff and Swansea. With its first population hub based on Newton, half a mile inland from the sea, Porthcawl itself began life as a centre for the export of surplus agricultural goods from the rich and fertile Vale of Glamorgan.

Porthcawl Spring Tide

Spring tide at Porthcawl (photo: Simon Turton)

The town of Porthcawl may be relatively modern but the surrounding area has always been well populated.

The lost town of Kenfig

Kenfig lay just to the northwest of modern Porthcawl and, in medieval times, was a significant centre of population until it was overwhelmed by encroaching sand in the early 15th century. Newton is an ancient community - the church boasts a pulpit that pre-dates the Reformation and, with a series of wooden carvings showing the flagellation of Christ, is a remarkable piece of religious furniture.

Coal and iron trade

In the late 1820s and early 1830s, as the Industrial Revolution began to make serious inroads into Welsh rural life, Porthcawl Point became the terminus of a horse-drawn tramroad bringing iron and coal down from the Llynfi Valley.

The trade was never as heavy or as intense as that from the Rhondda Valleys and Porthcawl was never likely to rival nearby Cardiff as a port, but it was a significant development and, for a while, it looked as if industrial prosperity had come to this part of the world.

With a view to exploiting this coal and iron trade, Porthcawl docks were opened in 1865. This stretch of coast, however, has always been notorious for bad weather and it quickly transpired that the harbour basin was very difficult to enter whenever the weather was rough.

The dock laboured on for a while but, with superior competition from nearby Cardiff, Barry and Swansea, eventually closed in 1907. All that now remains of Porthcawl's industrial past are the huge breakwater, a lighthouse and the tidal basin itself. Jennings warehouse - the oldest example of a maritime warehouse in Wales - has also survived although, at the moment, it stands empty and forlorn.

The lighthouse on the end of the breakwater or pier was the last coal and gas fired lighthouse in the United Kingdom. Operating on North Sea gas from 1974, it was only finally converted to electricity in 1997.

Charabancs and day trippers

Porthcawl had always harboured designs as a 'watering place' and as the industrial element of the town's role declined so the tourist trade began to grow. In the early days most of the tourists were day trippers as paid holidays and long periods of free time for men in the mining industry were rare. Charabancs thronged Porthcawl's roads and there was even a railway line, a spur off the Great Western Railway, bringing people from Pyle to the sea.

After World War One, however, things began to change. Men had fought for a better life, thousands had made the supreme sacrifice, and the delights of a few days at places like Barry and Porthcawl was not too much to ask for - was it? By 1921 the population of Porthcawl had risen to 6,642 and, each summer, thousands of people from the valleys flocked in to enjoy the benefits of sun, sand and water.

The elegant promenade had been built in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, but with the popularity of the town as a holiday resort growing every year it was clear that some form of entertainment centre was required. As a consequence the grand pavilion was built on the sea front in 1932 for a cost of £25,000. It has remained a centre for concerts, dances and recitals ever since.

Paul Robeson once performed there - via a trans Atlantic telephone link - and between 1948 and 2001 the place was the home of the annual South Wales Miners Eisteddfod.

Trecco Bay and Coney Beach

The beach in the centre of town has always been dangerous and swimming was never really possible. However, Porthcawl was luckily flanked by two superb stretches of sand, Trecco Bay in the east, Rest Bay in the west. Close to Trecco Bay, at Coney Beach, one of Wales' great holiday institutions quickly developed - the Coney Beach Funfair. The attraction at Rest Bay was rather more sedate and decorous - Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, one of the greatest and most prestigious courses in Britain.

Miners' fortnight

With the advent of Miners' fortnight in the years after World War Two - two weeks in July and August when the mines shut and virtually the whole population of the mining valleys decamped to the seaside - Porthcawl suddenly mushroomed into one of the most popular holiday resorts in the country.

The fixed caravans of Trecco Bay Caravan Park offered cheap accommodation. The Coney Beach Funfair was close at hand and with the town of Porthcawl providing the usual array of fish and chip shops, ice cream parlours and pubs, everything you could want was available within the radius of a few short miles.

It was all too good to last. The 1970s and 80s saw a decline which, although not terminal, certainly mirrored the demise of other British seaside resorts in the face of continental competition. Guest houses closed and even the paddle steamers of the White Funnel Fleet - which had for many years been regular callers at Porthcawl breakwater - were finally laid-up for scrapping.

People still come to Trecco Bay for their annual holiday but Porthcawl these days seems to cater mainly for day trippers - something of a throw back to the charabanc trips of the early 20th century, in the days before paid holidays became the norm.

While there may be an air of faded greatness about the place, there is also a sense of vibrancy and excitement. Porthcawl, like many seaside resorts, looks to the future with hope and expectation.

The world's first passenger hovercraft

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James Roberts James Roberts | 09:04 UK time, Thursday, 19 July 2012

Half a century ago the future of transport appeared on a beach in north Wales. The hovercraft service from Rhyl to Moreton beach, Merseyside - the first of its kind in the world - was unleashed to masses of enthralled onlookers. This was the way forward - or so it seemed.

The Vickers-Armstrong VA3 hovercraft on Rhyl beach. The world's first passenger hovercraft service. Photo: Brian Whitehead.

On 20 July 1962 a large crowd gathered on Rhyl beach and marveled as the newly developed Vickers VA3 hovercraft, or hovercoach, as it powered up its two roaring engines. The machine signalled a new chapter in the future of transport, making sci-fi dreams reality.

The hovercraft was a huge technological leap forward. As it was being developed in the 1950s the Patent Office was unsure whether to class it as aircraft or boat. Prior to this, various attempts were made to build a craft capable of traversing land, water and anything in between, using a cushion of air and a skirt that lifted the craft above the terrain. In 1959 a hovercraft crossed the English Channel and, like the recent advances in jet-engine technology, enthusiasm was huge.

Half a century ago, traversing the Dee Estuary took over two hours by road. The new hovercoach could, it was claimed, carry 24 passengers at up to 70mph, taking 30 minutes with a scheduled 12 trips per day. The journey cost £2 for a return ticket, with a 20 minute turnaround. It was on an overcast August morning the first two dozen passengers made history, encountering a bumpy crossing to the then bustling seaside town of Rhyl.

Weighing in at 12 tons and spanning 54 feet in length and 27 feet in breadth, the Vickers-Armstrong VA3, run by British United Airways, was one of the first commercially viable hovercrafts rolled out for use. From the summer of 1962 it was constantly at the mercy of the weather, operating for just 19 days out of a scheduled 54 and only managing the proposed dozen trips on two of those days.

Ultimately it was the elements that proved the end of this innovative service. On the afternoon of 14 September the VA3 left the Wirral shore to head for Rhyl, and halfway across the 17 mile journey one of the lift engines failed, soon followed by the second. Eventually the craft made its way to Rhyl. For the next three days, the three captains, along with other helpers frantically attempted to moor the craft, but despite limited success the craft broke free and drifted nearly half a mile out to sea.

Brian Whitehead remembers the fateful few days that brought the curtain down on the world's first passenger hovercraft. "I well remember that night in September 1962, a friend and I were returning home from Prestatyn when we saw the maroons go up at Rhyl lifeboat station.

"We decided to drive the car on to the prom by the lifeboat station and were waved by some of the crew to follow them and drive along the prom shining our headlights to where the hovercraft was slamming into the sea wall. When they had finished lashing it to the prom railings, we were thanked and we left. The next day we read about the incident, stating that there was hundreds of gallons of kerosene on board!"

In the hands of the gales and tides of the Irish Sea, the VA3 was smashed into Rhyl's promenade wall, followed by a further pounding from the waves and a heroic intervention from the Rhyl lifeboat crew.

The ordeal signalled a premature end to the world's first passenger hovercraft service. The accident happened a few days before the service's trial period was up, and signalled an end to the prospect of gliding over the waves for the people of Rhyl.

Family history: perseverance pays

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Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 10:15 UK time, Tuesday, 17 July 2012

In one of my recent blogs I wrote about finding an old postcard addressed to Lil Wilson.

It was posted in 1918 from her friend Gladys and sent to Lil's address of 10 Mountjoy Street in Newport. I found it on my computer when I was cleaning old files.

Front of post card

Front of post card

9th August 1918, Portsmouth

Dearest Lil,

Just a line to say I am having ripping good time. Trusting you enjoyed yourself, which I have no doubt. I went to a dance last night. I can tell you Dear there were plenty of sailors and midies. I should very much like you to be here with me as times are jolly...ta ta for now, with love Gladys xxxx

We bought it at the flea market in Abergavenny back in 2005 as part of a programme idea for Look Up Your Genes, BBC Radio Wales' family history series. The idea was to reunite the postcard with Lil's family.

And at long last I am pleased to be able to report that I have finally managed to trace Lil's family.

In research, as in life, some things are easy and run smoothly and others are not so easy, and there is a temptation to give up. This search was one of those times when I kept wishing I'd never even had the idea in the first place!

Let's just say that looking for a Lil/Lily/Lilian Wilson in Newport without knowing her age or her parents' names was a challenge. But then I had a Eureka moment.

Searching electoral registers

In 1918, Lil may not have had the right to vote but her parents or possible siblings might have while living at 10 Mountjoy Street.

Normally I'd rush off to the relevant county archives but this time I decided to send an advance email to Gwent Archives in Ebbw Vale. This was lucky because they replied to say that old copies of the electoral registers for Newport were not held by them but by the main reference library in Newport itself.

Absent voters

When I got to the library in John Frost Square I asked for some help. I was guided towards shelves heaving with old copies of electoral registers, as well as bound indexes of absent voters (which basically covered any soldiers who were away fighting during World War One).

To my amazement the absent voters' list was easy to use - once the librarian had utilised their ever powerful local knowledge to inform me that Mountjoy Street would have been in the Tredegar Ward - and I quickly found what I had started looking for in 2005!

Electoral register - Tradegar Ward

Tradegar Ward

Clearly listed is number 10 Mountjoy Street, even if is rather confusingly located next door to Mountjoy Road and Mountjoy Place.

The names of Wilson, Ernest James number 18251 of the 7th South Wales Borderers and Wilson, Reginald number 26055 of the 1st Monmouths jumped off the page.

Fortified by finding these details I tried the main electoral registers to see what else I could find.

In 1920 Lilian Wilson was registered at that address. Next to her name was the letter O, indicating that she was eligible to vote.

In 1923 there was no sign of Lilian but I was glad to see that Reginald had returned home safely after the war and was living at number 10 again with Alfred Wilson and also Harry Glynn and Leslie Parry Jones.

John's Newport Directory

The librarian suggested I try John's Newport Directory, which is a local trade directory similar to the our modern yellow pages but which also lists private residents if they had requested their details to be published.

John's Directory showed that in 1917 a lady named Mrs Margaret Wilson lived at number 10; in 1920 it was Miss Lilian Wilson but by 1923 it was Mrs Lilian Jones.

A quick scan of the marriage indexes on FindMyPast, which is free in the library, revealed that Lilian Wilson had married Leslie Parry Jones in 1921. Another click lead me to the digital image of their marriage certificate - again free of charge as I was in the library - and this confirmed both their ages and the name of her father, John.

Tracking down the Wilsons

So all that remained was for me to find a living member of the Wilson family and this is just the sort of thing that Genes Reunited was created for. So I pinged off some emails and waited patiently for a reply.

The 1911 census showed Margaret Wilson aged 53, a widow living with four children Ernest 17, Lilly 15, Reginald 14 and Alfred 9. But it also confirmed that Margaret had had nine children, two of whom had died and that incredibly she had married 36 years ago.

My maths told me that 1911 minus 36 equals 1875 but, try as I might, I couldn't find an entry in the marriage indexes for John Wilson marrying Margaret in 1875.

A postcard home

Luckily, though, I received a reply to my message from a man who was Lilly's great nephew and he was able to confirm that Lilly's closest brother Reginald had married Gladys Peake in 1924 and that two of their four children were still alive and living in Newport.

I am truly glad, and a little bit relieved if honest, to say that finally the postcard has made its way home again. It's been an incredible journey and just goes to show that perseverance pays.

Geoffrey of Monmouth: making fact out of fiction

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 16:20 UK time, Friday, 13 July 2012

For hundreds of years the standard history of Britain was the one supplied by an obscure teacher, writer, cleric - and, later, priest - of dubious Welsh connections. His name was Geoffrey of Monmouth and his words were believed implicitly, from the time of their creation in the 12th century right down to the days of Queen Elizabeth.

Only much later did it become clear that Geoffrey's version of British history came from a range of different sources. These included a ninth century Welsh book of history (written in both Latin and Welsh), the work of monks like Bede and Gildas, the poems of several Welsh bards - and, in particular, his own rather vivid imagination.

Virtually everything about Geoffrey of Monmouth is obscure, even his date of birth. In all probability he was born around the year 1100, possibly in the Marches of Wales. Even that is unclear.

Historia Regum Britanniae

He called himself Geoffrey of Monmouth in his most famous and influential book, Historia Regum Britanniae, a supposed history of Britain's kings. He probably, therefore, had some connection with the Monmouth area and may well have been born there.

The background of his parents is, likewise, also unknown but they may well have come from Brittany with William the Conqueror in 1066. It is unlikely that he had any Welsh blood in him - as was originally believed - and he almost certainly had only a passing acquaintance with the Welsh language. He wrote in Latin, as did most learned men in those days.

For many years it was believed that Geoffrey was a monk or a cleric at the Benedictine Priory in Monmouth but, in fact, he may well only have studied there as a youth. Most of his adult life was actually spent outside Wales.

Certainly he was made secular canon at the Collegiate Church of St George in Oxford and between 1129 and 1151 his name, along with that of the Archdeacon of Oxford, appeared on six different charters for the Oxford area.

Bishop of St Asaph

On 21 February 1152 Geoffrey of Monmouth was appointed Bishop of St Asaph. Amazingly, he had only been ordained as a priest some two weeks before. The new Bishop probably never went near St Asaph as the rebellion of Owain Gwynedd was raging at the time and to venture to that particular part of north Wales would, in all honestly, have meant death and disaster.

Geoffrey died somewhere around December 1155, already acknowledged as a major historian but, in reality, one of the greatest legend makers Wales and Britain had ever seen.

Dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, Historia Regum Britanniae remains his best known work. It purported to be a true history of Britain and of her kings from the time of Brutus - a descendant of Aeneas of Troy, not the Shakespearean character - through the Roman invasion of Julius Caesar to the reigns of Leir and Cymbeline (that one DID later become a Shakespearean figure).

Creating a legend

Above all his Historia included the character for whom Geoffrey is always best remembered, King Arthur. His work on creating the legend - arguably a necessity in a period of trouble and strife when the country was desperately seeking to return to happier, more peaceful times - certainly began the popularity of the Arthurian legend. Later kings and historians took the legend and adapted it to their own needs but it undoubtedly began with Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Unfortunately, Geoffrey did not confine himself to the true historical facts around the character of Arthur. After all, like most story tellers - and that is how we should remember him, as a very good story teller - Geoffrey was not going to let the truth get in the way of a great tale.

It remains a sad fact but if Geoffrey had told the real story of the Romano-British warrior chief who fought against the Saxon invaders we might have had more of a grasp on our history during those troubled years. As it was, his work - his fantasy work - on Arthur and Merlin opened the way to a whole raft of Arthurian fantasies.

Geoffrey's earliest book was also on the Arthurian theme. The Prophesies of Merlin supposedly contained speeches and comments made by the great magician, translated by Geoffrey from some obscure language which he never identified. Clearly he was fascinated by the Arthurian topic.

Geoffrey of Monmouth remains an incredible character, in his way as compelling as the stories he created and the people he wove into them. View him as a man of his time - but certainly not as an accurate and detailed chronicler of Britain's history.

The 1925 Battle of Ammanford

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 10:25 UK time, Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The industrial history of Wales is studded with strikes, lock outs and riots but one series of violent altercations between striking miners and the forces of law and order that now seems almost forgotten - at least by a large portion of society - is the Ammanford anthracite strike of 1925.

The strike began 87 years ago, on 13 July 1925. For a period of 10 days the Carmarthenshire town of Ammanford was a virtual battleground as the police and miners struggled to gain control of the streets.

Economic hardship

In 1925 the mining industry was beginning to encounter severe economic hardship. Cheap coal from the Ruhr basin in Germany - taken by the victorious Allies as part of the reparations settlement after the war - was eating into the profits of the coal owners. In just 12 months Welsh coal exports had fallen by over 20 million tons.

Add in the normal fluctuations of trade when waterways like the St Lawrence froze and thus prevented the import of coal and other raw materials into Canada, and it was clear that the situation was far from healthy. In No 1 and No 2 pits at Ammanford, where some of the finest anthracite coal in the world was mined, things soon became decidedly worse.

Two huge conglomerates, the United Anthracite Collieries and the Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries, owned the Ammanford pits as well as most of other the mines in Carmarthenshire and West Glamorgan and they now decided to ignore the long-established seniority rule.

Last in, first out

This policy of "last in, first out" was partly designed to protect union agitators and officials whenever redundancies were made - as they often were due to seasonal fluctuations in the trade. It had always been understood that men who had been laid off would be the first to be re-employed when things became easier. However, by ignoring the procedure mine owners could now weed out whoever they decided was a potential trouble maker.

Following the dismissal of a man called Will Wilson from No 1 pit, miners took their cause to the Fed, the largest miners Union, and within days a strike was called. Unrest spread like wildfire and soon only two collieries in the whole of the Dulais Valley and the Vale of Neath were working. Fearing civil unrest and major violence, authorities panicked and police were brought in from outside the area and billeted across the town and valley.

Marching through the night

One of the highlights of the strike, which grew gradually more violent and fractious as the weeks went on, was the march by thousands of miners from Ammanford to Crynant, a distance of over 20 miles. The march took place through the night and a few weeks later, on 21 July, was repeated in the opposite direction, over 10,000 striking miners tramping down the valley through the darkness.

Skirmishes between the miners and the police were commonplace. Part of the trouble stemmed from the fact that the police were not local men and had no understanding or sense of companionship with the miners. On 30 July they responded to a gathering of picketing miners at Betws with a baton charge - more charges at other collieries took place later in the day.

The Battle of Ammanford

Worst of all, however, was what has been called The Battle of Ammanford which began when 200 policemen - billeted in the old brewery at nearby Gwaun Cae Gurwen - were ambushed and attacked by miners on the Pontamman Bridge. The police were on their way to deal with a picket at No 2 pit in Ammanford and walked, totally unsuspecting, into the trap.

The "battle" lasted from 10.30pm at night until 3am in the morning before the miners were pushed back and police at last managed to gain control of the area.

And so it went on, skirmish following skirmish throughout the early summer months. Finally, the mine owners gave in and agreed to recognise the seniority rule. Miners returned to work on 2 August.

That was not the end of the story, however. In what was seen by many as an act of retaliation - although it could be argued that this was simply a rationalisation of resources in light of the economic situation - No 1 pit at Ammanford was closed down.

Prison sentences

Nearly 200 miners faced prosecution for their part in the riots, 58 of whom received prison sentences of between two and 18 months.

The support of the community for these men was enormous. Each day during the trials coach loads of friends and families set out for the court in Carmarthen and there was wild enthusiasm whenever a prisoner was released. Men and women stood outside the court singing hymns and left wing songs such as The Red Flag.

The physical cost of the strike and riots was immense. One miner had been so badly beaten by the police that he was never able to work again - and yet, not one single policeman ever faced prosecution. Medals and medallions were minted by the International Class War Prisoners Aid Association and awarded to those miners who had served prison sentences.

Once the miners had returned to work and the prison sentences been served, things in Ammanford returned to normal. The fact that most of the police involved had been outsiders undoubtedly helped to restore relationships within the community.

The story of the Battle of Ammanford remains one of the least known episodes in Welsh industrial history - which is a shame as it reflects the fight of Welsh workers for justice and equal rights in the work place. It is part of our history.

The marvellous Morgans

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 9 July 2012

We all know the old jokes and one-liners, the sayings or references to peoples names that are supposed to be typical of Wales - Jones the Milk, Jones the Bread, even Jones the Spy. But there are plenty of other names apart from Jones that are representative of Wales and the Welsh nation. Take Morgan as an example.

There have been thousands of Morgans in Wales, some of which have made a significant contribution to the history, the social life and the development of the country.

Henry Morgan

Henry Morgan, of course, is well known. Born in the middle years of the 17th century and related to the Morgans of Tredegar House, Henry was supposedly the son of a farmer from the Cardiff area. As a young man he decided to leave Wales and sailed for the West Indies to make his fortune. Once there he quickly took to piracy, basing himself in Jamaica, then the pirate capital of the Caribbean.

Henry Morgan led several expeditions against the Spanish, the principal land owners in the West Indies; his activities were given a degree of tacit approval by the British government. Morgan was a cruel and blood thirsty individual who showed little mercy to his victims but his actions should be viewed in the context of the times. He undoubtedly made himself rich but the British government also benefited greatly from his actions.

Indeed, so successful were his campaigns and so well-thought of was he back in the UK that he was knighted in 1674 and appointed deputy governor of Jamaica. Not bad for a farmer's lad from Llanrhymney.

Griffith Morgan

Griffith Morgan was the real name of Guto Nyth Bran, the legendary Welsh runner. One of many professional runners in the 18th century, Guto would run and the gentry would lay bets on his performance.

Guto even ran several races against horses and many of his exploits have gone down in folklore - like the time he supposedly ran from Mountain Ash to Pontypridd in the time it took his kettle to boil on the fire!

Guto's most famous race was his last. He ran from Newport to Bedwas, a distance of 19km, in a time of just under an hour, defeating his arch rival in the process. But he dropped dead when one of his supporters slapped him on the back in congratulations. His achievements are still celebrated each New Years Eve in the Nos Galan Races at Mountain Ash.

The Morgans of Tredegar House

Then, of course, we have the Morgans of Tredegar House. Godfrey Morgan, Baron Tredegar, took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade - and survived. His horse, the mount that carried him down the "valley of death," is supposedly buried somewhere in the grounds of Tredegar Park. A picture of it hangs in the house.

Godfrey's grandson, Evan, was the last man to hold the title. Eccentric and clearly living in a different world from the rest of humanity, Evan was obsessed by black magic and even built himself a magik room (the spelling was deliberate) somewhere in the bowels of Tredegar House. Always a right winger, he knew the Nazi leaders Hermann Göring and Rudolph Hess quite well - his pet parrot once bit Göring on the nose. A very astute bird, some might say.

More Morgan achievements

Other Morgans may not be so well-known but many of them were significant figures. Dynallt Morgan is renowned as being the author of the best poem never to win the crown at the National Eisteddfod. In the 1880s, David Morgan created Cardiff's largest department store - the shop ran until it finally closed its doors in 2005. Teddy Morgan? He was the man who scored the try that beat the previously undefeated All Blacks in that memorable game at Cardiff in 1905.

Bishop William Morgan was the man who translated the Bible into Welsh. The book came out in 1588 and was an immediate success. Such was the quality of Bishop Morgan's Welsh that there are many who believe the survival of the Welsh language - when everything from the reign of Henry VIII onwards seemed to be actively attempting to destroy it - is down to his skill. Morgan, who became Bishop of St Asaph in 1601, died a poor man - even the exact spot of his grave is not known.

Morian Morgan

One Morgan who seems to have entirely slipped under the radar is Morian Morgan. Born at Bridgend in 1912 and educated at Cowbridge School, he was the man who led the Concorde project. He was short sighted but this did not stop him achieving his goals and during World War Two he became a test pilot. As director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, his enthusiasm and drive pushed the Concorde project to its successful conclusion.

There are many more Morgans whose contributions to Welsh life have been immense, so many in fact that they certainly deserve the accolade of The Marvellous Morgans.

The prisoners' calendar

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Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 9 July 2012

Last week I had a day out in Ebbw Vale and spent several happy hours tucked away in the old steelworks that now house the Gwent Archives. I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be, especially when it was raining yet again.

I'd gone with two research projects in mind but was immediately sidetracked by an incredible video art installation, something I can honestly say has never to me happened before.

The sound of a melancholic cello drew me into a room where Nerea Martinez de Lecea's We Are Still Here was playing. It is a story about the red dust that covered Ebbw Vale during the steel production process, resulting in much of the surrounding hills, buildings, cars, laundry and even sheep getting covered in red dust.

My plan at the archives was to unearth some of the most unusual or quirky items that had been deposited with them. Their budgets don't always allow for the purchase of vast quantities of documents and so most archives rely on the generosity of local individuals, businesses and organisations to donate documents and items which might be of local historical interest.

Denbighshire Record Office

In the Denbighshire Record Office, which is based in the old Gaol in Ruthin and well worth a visit even if you don't have any interest in family history, they have some weird and wonderful things in their Glyndwr Collection.

This is a collection of family papers from Edward Hughes (1862-1938) and his family from the Wrexham area. Objects include part of a zeppelin, onfederate bank notes, a package of Russian tea and a lottery ticket dated 1793.

Not the average household contents, I agree, and I can't help but wonder at how these were obtained. Perhaps Mr Hughes was travelling home from Hughesovka in a zeppelin drinking tea winning a card game with an American gentleman!

Other items deposited in the past include the diaries of local soldiers from World War One, minutes from Freemasons' meetings, a passport belonging to the travel agent Thomas Cooke from Newport dated 1845 for a trip to Russia, and the diary of Reverend LW Williams of Newbridge detailing his 1902 voyage across the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

The Rolls Family

There is also a vast collection of personal documents donated by the Rolls family, including Baron Llangattock of the Hendre, Monmouthshire. The most famous recent family member was Charles Stewart Rolls (1877-1910) , who after meeting Henry Royce in 1904 went onto create the Rolls-Royce. Sadly he was the first Briton to be killed in a flying accident, during a flying display near Bournemouth at the age of just 32.

But it his grandfather John Etherington Welch Rolls (1807-70) who appears to have led a really fascinating and affluent life. There are invitations to the coronation of George V, sketches of monkeys, navigational charts, alphabetical lists of yachts and letters signed by Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale to name just a few of the curious items.

One of the archivists suggested I ordered D361/FP4/41. And I was amazed at what appeared just a few minutes later.

prisoners calendar 01

Calendar of Prisoners Spring Assizes 1849

Prisoners' Calendar 02

Prisoners' Calendar 03

Jury service sketch

Clearly J E W Rolls was sitting on the jury during a very long day in 1849 and like most of us he was tempted to doodle. The end product is 6 pages of finely drawn cartoons illustrating the offences of each of the 60 prisoners in turn.

It has been well preserved and despite its sepia tint and age is robust and not torn or fragile in any way, thanks to how it has been stored in the past and is now being cared for by Gwent archives.

Donating to Welsh archives

If you think you might have an item lurking in your attic or under the stairs in a dusty old shoe box then why not donate it? On their website Gwent Archives state that they are:

"Always pleased to accept new donations and deposits of records which... can come in many formats, from hand-written deeds and documents to typed minutes, maps, photographs or films. They can be the records of individuals or of societies, businesses or other organisations. Records do not have to be "old" and can relate to the recent past. You may well be surprised at the items we are interested in - we are trying to reflect all aspects of life in the Gwent area."

If you have something you would like to offer to a county archive then you can decide whether to donate the documents, in which case their ownership will pass to the Archives. Or, you can offer an item on indefinite loan, where the ownership remains with the person who deposited it.

Women's Archive of Wales

Perhaps if you have your mother's land girls' uniform in your attic or another item which relates specifically to women in Wales rather than a geographical location then why not approach the Women's Archive of Wales. Their aim is to identify, rescue and preserve materials relevant to women's lives, past, present and future by actively collecting relevant records, and arranging for their deposit in an appropriate, recognised repository.

I really urge you to visit Ebbw Vale and especially the archives and have a look at the art exhibitions on display. The archives are also organising free sessions to help people start their family history research and the next one is on Friday 27 July 2012 at 10am.

If you join the Gwent Family History Society, you can travel further afield with a trip to the National Archives at Kew on Saturday 14 July 2012.

Kristina's search for her grandfather Chaim Levy Rotblatt

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Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 12:20 UK time, Wednesday, 4 July 2012

One story that sticks in my mind from the vast number we covered for Look Up Your Genes with BBC Radio Wales was that of Kristina Taylor.

Kristina's search concerned her maternal grandfather. Her mother, Ruth Schmidt was born in 1913 in Germany as the illegitimate daughter of a German Aryan mother and a Jewish father from Poland.

When World War One began Ruth's father disappeared. She was just four years old in 1917, when she and her younger brother Hans were placed in a Christian orphanage in Dresden by their mother. She remained there until she was 14.

Children's home in Dresden. Ruth and Hans Schmidt are nearest the camera.

The choice

Ruth was six years old when the war ended. Her father had survived the war and came to claim his children from the home. Incredibly Ruth was given a choice by the Lutheran staff who ran the orphanage.

She was told she could stay with Jesus in the orphanage, or go with her father. Because she had been brought up in the Christian faith she chose to stay in the orphanage. She never saw her father again. She thought it likely that, being Jewish, he was later killed in the Holocaust.

Ruth left Germany in 1939, eight weeks before the outbreak of World War Two, and settled in England. In the 1980s she moved to Cardiff to live close to her two daughters, where she lived until her death in 2000.

Kristina's search for Chaim Levy Rotblatt

Kristina started searching for her Jewish grandfather. Luckily he had an unusual name: Chaim Levy Rotblatt, which he changed to Herman Jordan, a fact she only learnt much later. Sadly, by the time her mother died she had made no progress, but nevertheless continued her quest.

Four years ago, Kristina entered his details on a Jewish genealogy website and found his name. She contacted the person who had entered his details, and began a four year correspondence with Howard Rotblatt, even though neither could be certain whether this was the Chaim Rotblatt who would have been her grandfather.

DNA gender comparisons

After four years Howard and Kristina decided to undergo a DNA test to confirm their relationship. In August 2010 they discovered that they were indeed first cousins once removed; their fathers were brothers.

Kristina has since been to New York with her daughter, and met her mother's half brother Fred. Her mother's half sister Charlotte lives in Ohio. Kristina's mother's middle name was Charlotte, suggesting that Ruth's father must have named his second daughter after the one he lost.

Howard's family were able to help fill in the details of what had happened to Ruth's father in those missing decades.

Interned during World War One

Chaim had been interned in Austria for the duration of the Great War. He was unsuccessful in claiming his abandoned children following the end of the war, and went to live in Vienna where he married and had a second family.

Sadly his wife perished in Auschwitz, but he and his two children, Charlotte and Fred survived. Fred, aged 13 at the time, was one of the children evacuated to Britain on the Kindertransport. Chaim spent World War Two in hiding in Belgium and later emigrated to America where he changed his name.

Chaim Rotblatt

Chaim Rotblatt

Further intrepid research by Kristina confirmed that Ruth's full brother, Hans, was released from the children's home in Dresden aged 14. Amazingly he hid the fact he was Jewish and became a driver during World War Two. After the war he worked as a policeman in East Germany under the Communist Regime. Hans died in 1989, just weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Many of Kristina's questions had been answered, but one issue remained unsolved.

Mystery girl

Among her grandfather's possessions was an undated studio photograph of a little girl. On the back in Yiddish it says "My daughter aged 3".

Could this possibly be Ruth? Could Chaim have treasured this photograph all his life, through two world wars and moving between countries and continents?

Mystery girl

On the back of this photograph, in Yiddish are the words "My daughter aged 3"

I was sent the photograph and quickly realised that I was going to need the help of another expert. I recalled that each month in the Who Do You Think You Are magazine there is a section on how to date photographs, so I sent off the photo of the mystery girl to Dr Rebecca Arnold who works at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

Her reply was swift and truly incredible.

The knitted trousers that the mystery little girl was wearing came from a Woolworth's knitting pattern only published in 1916.

This was the year that Ruth Schmidt would have been aged just three. The year before she was placed in the orphanage and the last fond memory that Chaim would have of his daughter.

It's such an incredible story that Kristina decided to write a book, Tied With An Easy Thread, which has since been published.

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