There are a few countries around the world with which Wales has long-standing and profound cultural, political and social ties. The other Celtic countries, of course. The United States, where, famously, 16 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Welsh descent — with particularly strong Welsh connections with Pennsylvania (aka “New Wales”) and Ohio. However, one of the most celebrated and enduring international relationships is with Argentina.
Welsh Settlement in Argentina
When Michael D. Jones sought to establish a settlement for Welsh people free from the cultural repression and bigotry of the British state, it was the Argentine government that he approached for permission to locate Y Wladfa in Patagonia as a new country, a “little Wales beyond Wales”, where Welsh would be the language of religion, government, trade and education. And so it was that 153 Welsh settlers arrived in Patagonia aboard the Mimosa, a converted tea-clipper, in a bay which they named “Porth Madryn”.
The context to this remarkable venture was the hostility of the British state to the language and culture of the Welsh people which had reached new heights in the mid-Victorian era. The official denigration and suppression of the Welsh language was legitimized and fuelled by the reports issued by the three English commissioners appointed by the Westminster parliament to head an “Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales”. Their Reports infamously declaimed:-
“The Welsh language is a vast drawback to Wales, and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people. It is not easy to over-estimate its evil effects …” (Read more.)
In Argentina, however, the Welsh settlers were welcomed, and the Welsh-Argentine community continues to this day centred on the towns of Gaiman, Trelew and Trevelin, where there are today at least 5000 Welsh speakers.
“Every Bloody Cause”
The long association between Wales and Argentina experienced tragedy in 1982 during the conflict in the South Atlantic.
Many Welsh-Argentines from Patagonia were conscripted into the Argentine forces occupying and defending the Falklands/Malvinas. One such Welshman, Milton Rhys, was sent as a young conscript as part of the Argentinian garrison to be a radio operator on the Falklands-Malvinas. Señor Rhys has given a poignant account of his experiences during the period of Argentine rule and the subsequent British invasion. Milton Rhys is the great-grandson of William Casnodyn Rhys, a Baptist pastor and Welsh patriot who emigrated to Patagonia from Port Talbot in the 1870s.
Of course, Welshmen fought on both sides of the conflict in the South Atlantic. Thirty-two Welsh soldiers of the British army’s “Welsh Guards” regiment were killed or severely wounded at Bluff Cove, with many suffering terrible burns, after they were left on board the ill-fated Sir Galahad logistics vessel for many hours awaiting orders to disembark – in a display of gross incompetence by the British military high command.
In these experiences on both sides of that senseless conflict, Alun Rees’s lines come to mind . . .
“Now Taffy is a fighter
when he hears the bugle call.
Name any war since Agincourt:
Taffy’s seen them all.
He’s fought the wide world over,
he’s given blood and bone.
He’s fought for every bloody cause
except his bloody own.”
Competing Legal Claims to the Falklands-Malvinas
The conflict in the South Atlantic arose out of a long-standing dispute over sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas Islands between the British and Argentine states. Here is a brief synopsis of the competing claims.
It is accepted by both Argentina and Britain that first country with a good legal claim to the Falklands/Malvinas was in fact France, which established the first colony there in 1764 and gave the islands their original name after the port of St. Malo – Les Îles Malouines (subsequently rendered into Spanish as the Islas Malvinas).
The French subsequently agreed to transfer her claims to the Falklands/Malvinas to the Spanish. The Argentine claim that they acquired those rights from Spain in 1810 according to a principle of international law known as uti possidetis juris (basically, principle of international law which provides that newly formed sovereign states should have the same borders that their preceding dependent area had before their independence).
The Argentine claims were not effectively challenged by Britain until a British naval squadron arrived in 1833 and caused the submission of the resident Argentine garrison under threat of force.
On repeated occasions since the British invasion of the Falklands-Malvinas in 1833, the Argentine government has restated its claims.
In due course, the status of the Falklands/Malvinas was recognized as a territory to be decolonized under United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 of 14 December 1960, titled “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples”.
Furthermore, earlier this year, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), sided with Argentina accepting their maritime claims and fixing the limit of their territory at 200 to 350 miles from their coast – so awarding the seas surrounding the Falklands/Malvinas to Argentina.
Although widely denigrated or misrepresented by the British government and much of the British media, the Argentine claims to the Falklands/Malvinas have considerable substance in law.
In a nutshell, the validity of the British claims to the Falklands/Malvinas rests on two questions:-
Was a plaque left by the British when they abandoned a brief settlement on the Islands in 1774 sufficient to entitle the British to re-assert a claim 60 years later (in 1833) and eject the existing Argentine settlement by threat of force?
Had France’s claims, which pre-dated any of the British claims, which France had transferred to Spain, and which Argentina had assumed on its independence, been extinguished by 1833?
To any objective observer, the basis of the British legal claims to the Falklands/Malvinas is decidedly shaky. When this was realised, the British government decided to switch the basis of their argument to one based on “self-determination”.
The self-determination argument has more than a touch of the Ealing Comedy “Passport to Pimlico” about it. How can a community of less than 3000 – smaller than Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen – and utterly reliant for all practical purposes on the umbilical cord with Britain, the colonial power, some 8700 miles away, assert a sovereign right of self-determination for its inhabitants? The Islanders are, of course, a transplanted population of British character and nationality. To attribute sovereign rights of self-determination to this tiny group of people is as ludicrous as astronauts claiming sovereignty over the moon.
Just as the British government and media persistently downplay and distort the basis of the Argentine claims to the Falklands/Malvinas, so too do they brush under the carpet the fundamental weaknesses in the basis of the claims of the British state to the islands.
Pragmatism and Self-Interest
Ultimately, the Falklands/Malvinas sovereignty issue is not going to find its resolution in legal arguments over fine points of international law, since the arguments of both Argentina and Britain have been amply aired and found to be riddled with weaknesses. The time has therefore surely come for both states to consider rationally and pragmatically what the right result should be. For example:
Which country is best placed to administer these islands? Britain at a distance of 8700 miles or Argentina some 300 miles away.
Could the British state put the vast sums spent defending and artificially sustaining the tiny settler population to better use?
At a time of increased international tensions and security threats, should the British state be distorting its strategic defence priorities to defend the Falklands/Malvinas colony?
Can the British state continue to rely in the 21st century, and post-Brexit, on political and military support from the US, EU and any countries in South America to maintain its occupation of the Falklands/Malvinas colony?
Following the Brexit vote, and the pressing priority for the British state to establish and upgrade trading relationships beyond the EU, should the British government be perpetuating trivial colonial conflicts at the expense of valuable trading relationships with the emerging economies of South America?
The Future Role of Welsh Politicians
Given our unique, long-standing and treasured relationships with the Argentine government and people, isn’t it time that we in Wales stood up to the British state and voiced our opposition to the intransigent and counter-productive stance of successive governments on this issue?
Isn’t it now time for a rethink on this – especially following the election of the pragmatic President Mauricio Macri in Argentina?
Jac says . . . Not long after the conflict in the South Atlantic I got to meet a few of the surviving guardsmen. One of them, from my part of Swansea, was here to marry a local girl. And of course his mates turned up for the wedding.
People still talk about the first time these survivors of the Sir Galahad heard the low-flying RAF jets come down our valley. Regulars in a Welsh village pub saw Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at first hand.
I’m not sure how many of them are still alive. The bridegroom from Manselton died in 1995, and this sad entry tells us that in 2010 his grave still had no headstone.
That’s the personal, the human, aspect of this tragedy. The wider picture can only be appreciated if we by-pass the British media, for the truth is that England stands almost completely isolated, virtually no one supports her claim to the Malvinas.
The claim is founded upon imperialist aggression and sustained by a combination of lies and yet more aggression, with contempt for international law and UN Resolutions thrown in. The excuse used is self-determination, ‘the people of the islands wish to remain British’.
You might as well ask the denizens of the Shankill Road if they support a united Ireland. Or go to a meeting of the Abbasock Holiday Home Owners Association with a petition demanding that Gwynedd doubles council tax on second homes.
Finally, let us not forget that throughout that conflict in defence of democracy and freedom – so memorably dismissed by the great Jorge Luis Borges as ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’ – Britain relied heavily on intelligence and other support from Chile. A country then controlled by Margaret Thatcher’s great friend General Pinochet, a man with firm views on democracy.
It’s a pleasure to follow the excellent guest posts on tourism and heritage that have generated a fair amount debate, shining a light on the dubious practices of the Welsh tourism industry and how these practices affect local communities as a result of flawed Welsh Government policy.
The focus of the posts so far has been on the neglect of heritage, history and tourism in rural Wales under non-Labour councils which – and though it’s not a view I share – could perhaps be expected. I say that because most people in rural Wales vote Plaid Cymru, Tory or Lib Dem, so wasting public money, trashing our heritage and screwing people over, has no consequences, electoral or otherwise, for the Labour Party.
But what about a Labour-controlled council in the Valleys, surely they’d take more care of local history and heritage when their own party’s history is intertwined with the area?
If only that were true, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, the smallest local authority in Wales and back in Labour hands since 2012 as the result of an appalling smear campaign to oust the Independents who’d run the Council and started many of the successful projects that Labour councillors and the new MP and AM are now claiming credit for, published a few weeks back itsArea Destination Plan for 2016 – 2018.
With its main focus on outdoor activities and leisure it could belong to any rural or semi-rural local authority, and don’t get me wrong, BikePark Wales, Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre and Cyfarthfa Castle Park and Museum are great attractions, but when Merthyr Tydfil has so much political, industrial, social and cultural history failing to acknowledge the majority of it makes a mockery of any tourism plan.
There is a nod to Merthyr’s epoch-defining industrial past in the plan with a commitment to looking to rebuild a life size replica of Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive engine, the first in the UK, but that’sreliant on the local heritage society raising enough moneyto get it built. Perhaps Labour Councillors aren’t willing to celebrate innovation, engineering excellence and vision for fear of showing local people there’s more to life than mediocrity, dependency and poverty that hallmark ‘Welsh’ Labour at all levels of government.
The Plan also talks of Welsh language provision via the Welsh language centre Canolfan Soar but again if you look closer the centre is facing its own financial difficulties as a result of funding cuts with its Welsh shop closing earlier this year. And as this is the Valleys, hostility to the Welsh language spending is never far away, as demonstrated by Labour and the opposition Independents in the full Council meeting earlier this month.
Another area mentioned is the lack of indoor activities in a town where rain is more often the order of the day than sunshine. So a lack of museums, interactive galleries and the like does seem particularly stupid to me.
Although to be fair the Plan does have an excellent SWOT analysis, but the action plan doesn’t include solutions for central recommendations like the lack of a Tourist Information Office and large scale accommodation. Even if we suspend belief and buy into the tourism lite guff they’re peddling, how can you be a serious tourist destination without enough beds or a central tourist information office?
The irony of course is that loads of places would love to have even half the history Merthyr Tydfil has and it could be that if tourism was done properly then the Borough would have year-round tourism selling Merthyr to the world. It could be integrated into local education, provide better job and career opportunities and re-instill some pride back in the place for those who were born here or made the place their home.
Welsh History started with Labour
However, we shouldn’t be surprised, this is the Labour Party after all, which believes Welsh history started with the birth of their party or the election of James Kier Hardie in 1900 . . . even though he is hardly celebrated anywhere in the town.
As if to reinforce this, Neil Kinnock’s ‘Welsh history’ quote did the rounds on social media last week, the quote reads,‘Between the mid sixteenth and mid eighteenth centuries Wales had practically no history at all, and even before that it was a history of rural brigands who have been ennobled and called princes.’
The local Labour Party does hold a Kier Hardie lecture that’s only open to party members, and speakers also have to be Labour members or Labour affiliated, and no press is allowed. Held now in secret because last year there was great embarrassment when the keynote speaker was First Minster Carwyn Jones, and the local party was reduced to giving tickets away and begging people to go.
What a difference it would make if the party opened it up to everyone, picked radical topics and speakers, had a question and answer session with a panel afterwards, possibly publish a paper on the topic and made it into a real community event. I doubt it would happen, but it’s one of many ideas to celebrate the town’s history and create an event for all.
Even the raising of the red flag and the Merthyr Rising festival that celebrates it is shunned by the local council, though UNISON stepped in to save the festival this year thanks to the new Labour AM Dawn Bowden who used to be a UNISON big wig and whom Jac has helpfully written about. Time will tell if the festival becomes a Labour sop which would be a shame as the festival organisers are about as far away from the ignorant, conservative Labour Council leadership values as it’s possible to be.
Labour leadership & Red flag
Speaking of the red flag and going slightly off course, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came to Merthyr Tydfil on 5th August as part of his leadership campaign and unsurprisingly found no support from the local Labour leadership who were all supporting Owen Smith.
Council Leader Brendan Toomey, Gerald Jones MP and Dawn Bowden AM (who was on holidays), took to Twitter to vent their anger about the rally saying he didn’t represent the party or local people etc., but Jeremy Corbyn had the last laugh, not only did he draw a sizeable crowd, but his use of the red flag brought the history of the town to a UK wide audience and got the town and red flag trending on social media for positive reasons.
It’s easy to see how the Merthyr & Rhymney Labour leadership were so annoyed, Jeremy Corbyn’s two hours in Merthyr did more to promotethe town’s radical historythan Council leader Brendan Twomey and his Cabinet have managed in four years.
Speaking of our elected representatives, on Twitter, Dawn Bowden, Bristol City fan living in Llantrisant, posted a picture of the overgrown blast furnaces in Merthyr Tydfil saying ‘what an incredible history this wonderful town has’. It seems the new AM is fitting right in with the dinosaur tendency that believe Welsh history began with industrialisation.
Weight of History and Remembering
I’ve written a fair bit and barely scratched the surface of the borough’s history or introduced the one person who belongs solely to the town yet rarely gets mentioned, despite the place being named after her,St Tydfil/Tudful, the princess and daughter of King Brychan who was martyred in the fifth century by raiding Picts.
She’s remembered with a Church in Wales church named after her, as is the local shopping centre, while Merthyr Tydfil Football Club’s nickname is the Martyrs. Yet outside of the church there is no acknowledgement of her, indeed admitting that Tydfil lived and died and was renowned for good deeds and values such as compassion to all, would mean Welsh history didn’t start with the Industrial Revolution or the Labour Party after all. But I suspect it’s also because she’s a woman and a victim of Labour’s patriarchal and misogynist attitudes, especially in the Valleys.
Of course Labour blames its wider lack of action on austerity, ‘We would love to do things’, they sigh, ‘but we’ve got no money’, when opposition councillors ask why aren’t things done. But what about things that don’t cost and could raise awareness of local history, like using the flag poles outside the Council office on St David’s Day or flying the Red Flag in May or Owain Glyndŵr’s banner in September? And I’m sure there are other little things that could be done, but I suspect it’s all a leap too far for closed, anti-Welsh minds.
I could write more on all that’s happened and why it should be celebrated; there’s Lucy Thomas, called the mother of Welsh steam coal trade, a widow who was the first person to export stream coal and give birth to coal exports. Away from industry, Merthyr was also the birthplace of designers Laura Ashley and Julian McDonald; and then there’s Charlotte Guest, wife of iron-master John Guest, who arranged for the Mabinogion to be translated into English. (Also, Dr Joseph Parry, who wrote the music for that all-time favourite, Myfanwy. Jac.)
To bring us up to date, a recent archaeological study foundevidence of Roman activityin the borough, and Merthyr-bornSamuel Griffiths, whose family emigrated to Australia, was responsible for writing Australia’s constitution, a fact recently in the news as the current Australian Chief Justice visited the town and called for closer cooperation – will Merthyr’s Labour leaders take him up on the offer?
Sometimes the sheer weight of remembering everyone and everything that’s happened can feel overwhelming, but it’s important because it tells us who we are and where we’ve come from.
I’ll end by pointing out that the lack of imagination coupled with an ingrained indifference or hostility towards Welsh history before the Labour Party, or industrialisation, means that even in Merthyr Tydfil, which gave birth to the modern Labour Party, we get the Area Destination Plan pushing Welsh history and heritage to the margins instead of using it front and centre. Most places in the world would kill for the history we have yet the Council focus is on weather dependent tourism in the rainy Valleys.
Of course, if there was a decent opposition here it could challenge the status quo. Which is why we should be grateful for the work of genuinely local history societies and historians, doing what they can to counter the hostility and apathy found all over Wales, attitudes that contribute to the slow death of our nation.
Jac says . . . I’ve always had a soft spot for Merthyr, going back to those happy hours spent at the Lamb Inn, in the days of its irreplaceable mine host, the late John Lewis. This magnificent pub, almost unchanged since the days when Dic Penderyn was said to have drunk there, was demolished in the early 1970s to ‘make way’ for something that was never built.
The truth was that the Labour council didn’t like the Lamb’s clientèle. As our guest writer informs us, nothing has changed when it comes to the Labour Party in Merthyr and its attitudes to expressions of Welshness.
Moving away from delicate concerns of identity and loyalties, our guest writer offered some hope for the area by mentioning BikePark Wales and Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre; and so, you know me, I just had to learn more. I’m afraid what I learnt is not encouraging.
BikePark Wales is the trading name for something called Beic Parcio Cymru Ltd. (Yes, honestly!) So while everyone knows it as BikePark Wales it’s official name is something else, perhaps done to make it difficult to get information on the company. (I’ve encountered the practice before.) To help you follow this, here’s the link to the Companies House website.
BikePark Wales looks like one of those outfits so common – perhaps unique – to Wales, a publicly-funded private company, for the website (designed by a company in Cornwall) carries the logos of Visit Wales, the ‘Welsh’ Government and the European Regional Development Fund. I suspect the directors are not local . . . certainly not the New Zealander.
In financial terms the company seems to be in good health, with net assets of £674,963 (y/e 31.03.2015). Though there are three outstanding charges registered with ‘The Welsh Ministers’, and a debenture held by Ian Campbell Officer (the New Zealander director).
A founding director of BikePark Wales is Martin Astley. But his Linkedin profile would suggest that his day job may be Marketing Manager for Saddleback Ltd, a Bristol company selling mountain bikes and associated ephemera. In fact, BikePark Wales serves as a useful retail outlet for Saddleback’s wares. Just think about that, here we have a venture funded with Welsh public money giving an English company an advantage over Welsh retailers. Now that’s colonialism for you!
The other directors are the aforementioned Kiwi, Astley’s wife Anna, and another husband and wife team, Rowan John Sorrell and Elizabeth Sorrell, also founding directors. In addition, the Sorrells have their own company over in Pontypool, Back-on-Track Mountain Bike Solutions Ltd which designs and builds mountain bike tracks. So I wonder who designed and built BikePark Wales’ tracks around Merthyr?
The other location mentioned by our guest writer was the Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre. All that needs to be said is that Dolygaer is owned by English company Parkwood.
If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise . . . not because you’ll meet a teddy bear but because there’s a good chance you’ll get knocked down by a mountain biker taking advantage of Playground Wales. Or maybe you’ll be stopped from going any further by a gang of hippies opposed to capitalism and private property . . . unless it’s theirs. And all because as a matter of ‘Welsh’ Government policy our woodlands are being surrendered to enviroshysters and ‘the leisure industry’.
Now I could put up with restricted access if our woods and forests were productive, providing the thousands of local jobs of which they’re capable. But no, Natural Resources Wales sees our woodlands as areas of recreation, and itself as an extension of the tourism industry. And through the Welsh public purse we pay for it all!
There is probably no country on earth where so much public money is spent with so few benefits for the indigenous population. But as I say, that’s how colonialism operates.
I am indebted to Brychan, a regular visitor to this blog, for drawing my attention to another example of misguided do-gooding, this time linking with enviroshysters and the ‘heritage’ racket – yea! even unto the Strata Florida Trust! (You couldn’t make this up!)
We start in the Elan Valley, the collective name for a number of reservoirs vaguely south east of Aberystwyth that supply fresh water to Birmingham. Built in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century these reservoirs occupy land much of which was compulsorily purchased.
But let’s not be negative, for as the Elan valley website tells us, “The choice of the Elan Valley as the source of Birmingham’s future water supplies was to lead to the creation of a spectacular new landscape in mid-Wales.” (Who writes this patronising crap!)
“The Elan Estate is owned by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water although a greater part of it is vested in the Elan Valley Trust on a 999 year lease.” Does Dŵr Cymru own the reservoirs and dams or just the land surrounding them? Either way, the water goes to Brum for free.
From what I can see, the Elan Valley Estate is a tourist playground doubling up as a nature reserve. But the estate also runs ‘courses’ for superannuated hippies and others who have washed up in Wales. Now it’s branching out.
Some of these courses are run by an outfit called Tir Coed, which describes itself as ” . . . a charity and social enterprise that engages people with woodlands through volunteering, training and bespoke activities that develop skills and improve woodlands for the benefit of everyone”. The kind of gibberish I encounter all the time, dreamt up to justify the existence of a group and, more importantly, its funding.
The project to which I want to draw your attention is something called Elan Gives Back, the premise of which is so unutterably colonialist that you’ll have trouble believing it, but just bear with me.
Last month, representatives of Tir Coed, acting for the Elan Valley Estate, visited Birmingham ” . . . explaining how the project would like to reconnect the people of Birmingham with their water source . . . before explaining about the weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions in the Elan Valley available through Elan Gives Back.” Read it for yourself.
(‘Bespoke activity sessions! Bloody hell! I know people who’ve been done for offering that sort of thing.)
If this venture is a ‘success’, then we can expect to see Brummie drug addicts, petty criminals and others having a jolly old time on the Elan Valley Estate. And at our expense, because of course Tir Coed, being a charity and a social enterprise, relies almost exclusively on grant funding.
The biggest single funder for year ending March 31 2015 was the Big Lottery Fund, which coughed up £82,783; but in there with other grants we see the Countryside Council for Wales, £35,000; Natural Resources Wales, £20,000; Llanidloes Town Council, £3,000; and Jobs Growth Wales, £11,276.
The only way I can interpret Elan Gives Back is that someone, somewhere, believes the area owes Birmingham something. But, surely, Birmingham, responsible for the enforced eviction of the area’s population, and the subsequent exploitation of Welsh resources, owes us. If Liverpool can apologise for Tryweryn then why can’t Birmingham apologise for Elan?
And if that is the thinking behind it, then what twisted colonialist mind could have dreamed up Elan Gives Back?
Finally, we need to consider what it says on the Charity Commission website, shown in the screen capture I referred you to earlier. Tir Coed’s stipulated ‘Area of Benefit’ is Wales. Birmingham is not in Wales, and I object strongly to public funding, much of it Welsh, being used to give bespoke weekends in the Welsh countryside to Brummie ne’er-do-wells. I further object to this being done as some kind of ‘apology’ for them having to drink our water!
Someone, maybe the Charity Commission, or the funders, needs to investigate this bollocks.
LINKS AND COINCIDENCES
Take yourself back to the Charity Commission website for Tir Coed and click on the box ‘Contact & trustees’ (on the left), you’ll bring up a list of trustees. Top of that list is a ‘Mr J Wildig’.
In fairness, the first of those seems to have raked in very little money and is now almost defunct, but give it its due, it used the tried and tested method, even the descriptive template, “The Trust enables work on heritage projects within the Ceredigion uplands”.
The second of Wildig’s trusts is connected with the Hafod Estate near Cwmystwyth. He is also a director of Pentir Pumlumon Cyf, which markets the area to tourists, while of course giving plugs to various trusts, such as Strata Florida, which is ‘flagged’ on its interactive ‘attractions’ map.
The Hafod Estate is managed by Natural Resources Wales “in partnership with the Hafod Trust”. It’s noticeable how many of the ‘trusts’ and individuals this blog has looked at recently work with NRW.
When talking of 19th century mining operations the Pentir Pumlumon website is keen to remind us that “Miners migrated to the area from Cornwall, Yorkshire, and elsewhere: their names can be found on gravestones in country churchyards and some of their descendants are here still”. Stressing a long-standing English (and Cornish) presence in the area seems to have been important for whoever wrote that.
Sites like this, written by English people trying to describe a country of which they have no real understanding beyond its perceived potential to benefit them; and for which they have little appreciation beyond the visual, the scenic, remind me of those 19th century posters encouraging English settlement in some benighted corner of the empire where the natives had recently been quelled.
Also involved with the Plynlimon Heritage Trust is Jennifer Jill Macve, whose name crops up a number of times in connection with Wildig. Macve is also a trustee of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust where, again, you’ll struggle to find any Welsh involvement.
The screen capture below explains it all. There was a development officer in Wales 2004 – 2008, and “over a third of Trusts in Wales were formed in the past seven years”. And to cheer you up even more, “There are also examples of Trusts still being formed, such as the Welsh Georgian Building Trust, and the Llanelli Goods Trust.” (I suspect there might be Welsh involvement in the latter, but not the former.)
If we go back for a sec to the Tir Coed website, and look at the ‘Contact’ page, then we see that it offers three addresses. One is presumably its HQ in Aberystwyth. Another is its Elan operation, where it ‘Gives Back’ bespoke weekends, and the third is Denmark Farm, Betws Bledrws, near Lampeter.
So now you’re wondering what denizens of that parallel universe sustained by grants await at Denmark Farm. You will not be disappointed. (Oh, yes, before any of you narrow-minded nationalists think the name has been changed, it was always Denmark Farm. Explained here.)
As is the way with these things, Denmark Farm is not just any old farm, run by primitive Welshies who keep animals and grow crops. No, sir, this is a conservation centre, offering eco-friendly holidays, nature trails and, yes – courses!
Confusingly – but not for old Jac! – this lot are registered with the Charity Commission as the Shared Earth Trust. Though the CC website tells us that income is falling, down from £135,000 in 2012 to a mere £45,000 in 2015.
A correspondingly sombre picture is to be found on the Companies House website, with the most recent accounts available (y/e 31.03.2015) informing us that this venture has tangible assets (almost certainly the farm buildings and land) of £310,666 (£324,991 in 2014). Yet ‘total assets less current liabilities’ brings that figure down to £258,346 (£277,418 in 2014). Denmark Farm is in trouble, perhaps it will soon be recycled.
Companies House also tells us there are charges against Denmark Farm. First there’s the mortgage of £170,000 with the Ecology Building Society of West Yorkshire. Then, on the same date, 25.07.2012, there was a loan of £25,000 made by the trustees of the Shared Earth Trust to the Denmark Farm Conservation Centre.
So who’s running things? Well, the three individuals who are both trustees of the Shared Earth Trust and directors of Denmark Farm Conservation Centre are Guy Alistair Hopwood, who lives at Denmark Farm, David Andrew Bradford Smith of Llandrindod, and Glenn Edward Strachan of Penuwch.
The staff at Denmark Farm – apart from one who seems to be married to a real farmer, living on a real farm – are the usual crew of ecocharlatans. Reading their potted bios reminds us how many silly little projects there are out there.
Take Gary Thorogood, who “moved to this part of Wales with his family 9 years ago after retiring from the Fire Service in London.” His bio mentions his involvement with the Lampeter Permaculture Group and Transition Lambed. (Don’t say you haven’t heard of them!)
Then there’s Mara Morris who lives with chickens, which I suppose is one way of guaranteeing fresh eggs. Next up is James Kendall, ” . . . responsible for procuring external funding so that we can maintain and increase our staffing resource, deliver engaging projects and develop the Shared Earth Trust membership”. The Accounts I’ve quoted would suggest that Kendall is not doing very well as a fund-raiser.
But in fairness, maybe he’s too busy with the Long Wood Community Woodland, where he serves as project manager. “He also works as a Forest School leader(?), woodland skills tutor and runs an outdoor after-school club, Young Rangers.”
Companies House also tells us there is a charge against Long Wood Community Farm. The mortgagee is the Big Lottery Fund and the property is described as “all that freehold property known as land at Long Wood, Llangybi, Lampeter registered at H M Land Registry under title numbers CYM271065, CYM271131, CYM270610”.
What becomes clear when we look into these projects, whether they are heritage and conservation, environment, or even social enterprises and community benefit companies, is that they are not businesses a bank would lend money to for the very simple reason that they are just not viable businesses. So they have to rely on grant funding.
Because they are not financially viable they invariably fail, which results in funding that could be better used being wasted. Those involved in such failures often re-form, take on a new name, and wait for the grant-giving agencies to come up with new funding streams and priorities. It’s a merry-go-round.
Those involved are simply indulging a private passion at public expense, there is no public benefit whatsoever . . . unless of course, you include the ‘courses’ and the ‘bespoke activity sessions’, which are not intended for the likes of us.
What I found interesting in writing this post is that, in J Wildig, we have unearthed a link between the environmental, the social enterprise, and the heritage sectors. Looking beyond this individual there are other linkages and overlaps to be found.
What is also clear is that many of these grant-grabbing groups are located in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, spilling over into neighbouring local authority areas. Suggesting that these two councils offer encouragement; but the major funders remain the ‘Welsh’ Government, in its various guises, and assorted Lottery funding streams.
Everywhere I look in the environmental lobby I see hypocrisy and contradictions. Perhaps the most glaring is the commitment to ‘Nature’ . . . discredited by the belief that Nature would be lost without them managing it.
This sylvan idyll of overbearingly managed ‘wilderness’ would of course provide many jobs and businesses for the kind of people we’ve met in recent posts. Almost all funded from the public purse.
They’d offer courses in yurt construction and other ‘traditional’ crafts. James Kendall could bring his Young Rangers from the Long Wood. With weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions so that we could fulsomely apologise to Brummies, Scousers, and all the others we’ve wronged. And of course there’d be the tourists. Combining to give us wildlife-free woods constantly ringing to the sound of human voices . . . none of them Welsh.
My idea of re-wilding would be to set aside an area of land and take human beings out of the picture entirely (especially those I’ve been writing about). Let Nature reclaim the land, naturally, as it did when the last ice retreated. Anything else is just a veiled attack on Welsh farming and a scam to milk the public purse.
Fortunately, the figures tell us the funding is drying up, and now, with Brexit, things can only get better. Let’s hope that the ‘Welsh’ Government, the Big Lottery Fund and others come to their senses and free us from heritage racket con men (and women), enviroshysters and all the rest.
UPDATE: I am informed that Monbiot has departed whence he came. That probably accounts for the sounds of raucous celebration that has been reported emanating from local farmhouses.
Early on the morrow, Mrs J and I are off to the Old North. I shall be back next weekend. But keep sending in your comments, for Big Gee is in charge as moderator.
Keeping tabs on the incestuous, grant-fuelled world of the Welsh heritage industry could be a full-time job in itself. It seems there is no end to the number of charitable trusts set up to take advantage of the funding available ostensibly to rescue this or that old ruin or building, with some familiar names cropping up here, there and everywhere, often with tenuous links to our country and its people.
A linguistic digression
Anyone who lives and works in more than one language and has given the matter some thought will tell you that, depending on which language they use, the world can sometimes look rather different. This is often true of conceptual words, for example.
Watching debates in county councils sometimes brings this into sharp focus. One side or the other will table a motion (cynnig = offer, proposal in Welsh). Opponents may then try to change or wreck it by tabling an amendment. In Welsh, that’s a gwelliant (=improvement).
By no means all amendments are a gwelliant.
In English the vast majority of conceptual words are derived from Latin or Greek. Heritage, perhaps appropriately in this context, comes down to us from Norman French and means something you have inherited.
You could inherit a property in Australia or downtown Manhattan without ever having set foot in either place, and your good fortune would be down to luck of the draw and the legal system.
In Welsh the word is treftadaeth, and if we break that word down, as children are encouraged to do at school, we get tref (place/homestead) + tad (father) + aeth, a suffix which very roughly means ‘something to do with’. In other words, places linked to your forebears, an idea not a million miles removed from hen wlad fy nhadau.
The difference between the legalistic connotations of the Norman French and the Welsh word, rooted in real people and places, goes to the heart of the debate which has been raging on the pages of this blog.
To its credit, the Ceredigion Herald picked up on the recent piece on this blog about plans to ‘enhance the visitor experience’ at Ystrad Fflur and help locals to ‘enhance senses of their own identity and wellbeing’, whatever that means, and it contacted Professor David Austin.
In response to questions, the professor huffed and puffed at some length about the wonderful nature of the site and was clearly reluctant to go into mundane details about what precisely was being planned and where the money was coming from.
When pressed, he gave answers which left a lot of wriggle room.
The Strata Florida Trust has acquired the farmhouse, he said, not mentioning the buildings which cluster around it (although the trust’s website says it has acquired those too).
The money had come from a private donation, and he was not prepared to say more on that subject.
The Acanthus Holden plan (the exclusive hotel with attached visitor centre) was to have been financed privately, but had now been ditched.
What happened to the £200,000 donation CHRT received to buy the buildings at Mynachlog Fawr therefore remains a mystery.
Plans, also shrouded in mystery, to develop the old farm, would be financed by a variety of means, he explained:
“There is other funding available to us, which is not Heritage Lottery Fund money, and we are in the process of finalising the arrangements for the allocation of that money to the Strata Florida Trust.”
That does not quite rule out HLF funding, and raises more questions than it answers.
Who is funding this, and why the secrecy? Is cash-strapped Ceredigion County Council involved, for example?
One of the contributors to comments on the original article about Ystrad Fflur suggested that there might be some form of local consultation. In his interview with the Herald, Professor Austin makes no mention of a consultation, and his website is also silent on the subject.
What we are about to get, it seems, is a fully fledged project for the commercial exploitation of Ystrad Fflur with no public consultation and zero transparency about the details of the development.
Adfer Ban a Chwm
Adfer Ban a Chwm (ABC), or to give it its more prosaic English name, “Revitalise Hill and Valley”, is another trust, this time registered to an address in trendy Islington, London where Tony and Gordon made their infamous Granita Pact.
Its annual report for the year to 31 March 2015 says that the charity’s objectives “are to preserve for the benefit of the people of Carmarthenshire, Powys, Wales and the Nation” what it terms “constructional heritage”, and in particular the pretty bits.
Presumably “the Nation” is not the same as Wales.
The website expands on this a little, saying that the trust aims to “address the issues of vernacular buildings in rural Wales and the need for affordable housing in the area”.
Adfer Ban a Chwm’s leading light is an architect, Roger Mears, pictured here at what would appear to be the Henley Regatta, old boy:
ABC (it should really be ABCh) was set up eight years ago and appears to have spent most of the period since applying for and receiving grants from, among others, the Brecon Beacon National Park Authority, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Brecon Beacons Trust, the Community Foundation in Wales and the Quaker Housing Trust. More trusts and foundations than you can shake a stick at, in fact.
It is not at all clear what ABC has actually achieved in those eight years apart from a year of planning, researching and writing a report in 2014-15 and raking in grants.
More grant money came in in May 2016 enabling it to proceed with its Grass Roots Heritage Programme, “a one-year project (the first year of a three-year programme) which we hope will identify buildings that we can turn into affordable homes.”
So after all that time, all that report writing and all those (successful) grant applications, it would seem that not a single building has been restored and not a single affordable home created, although the trust hopes to be able to identify potential candidates by this time next year.
Over the next 12 months, therefore, they will carry out “mapping and community work” in and around Myddfai, Carmarthenshire:
“This information will be used to underpin the next stage of the ABC project, and be broadcast widely in a series of interactive community workshops, where the social history of the buildings will be elaborated by gathering local memories and stories, and where community and student volunteers will learn about how to record old buildings, what to look for and what these buildings have to tell us, how they might be repaired and conserved and turned into affordable homes.”
Helping ABC along the way by working with the trust’s executive director on partnerships has been our old friend, Claire Deacon, CEO of Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, saviour of Llanelly House and the Merthyr YMCA, project director at Mynachlog Fawr, lecturer and consultant, and former conservation officer with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.
All in all, then, one of the most successful “Welsh” buildings preservation trusts: loads of grants harvested and no sign of any actual buildings. Perhaps Griff Rhys Jones will turn it into a documentary series.
Staying in Carmarthenshire for a moment, let’s take a trip to Gelli Aur (or Golden Grove as some would have it), the former home of the Cawdors near Llandeilo.
The huge late Regency pile has been knocked about a bit and badly neglected since the last of the Cawdors moved out in the 1930s. Carmarthenshire County Council, which had a lease on the place, can take credit for the worst of the damage.
At one time the council and the ever-enthusiastic Meryl Gravell hoped to turn the place into a kind of business incubator for media start-ups. Their chosen partner disappeared with a lot of public money which was never seen again. Ever more exotic investors came and went, until finally the house and 100 acres were sold to a London art dealer, Richard Christopher Salmon.
Salmon has renovated a part of the house and made the roof of the main building weatherproof, but one of his first acts after taking over was to set up a trust.
The Golden Grove Trust, which has no known sources of income, was gifted with a debt of £1.45 million by Mr Salmon, a sum which apparently represents the purchase price of the near derelict house and dilapidated grounds. If that was what he actually paid for this massive liability, someone saw him coming.
The debt is due to be repaid – somehow – to Mr Salmon in just over a year from now.
Filing accounts is clearly not one of Mr Salmon’s favourite activities. The Charity Commission website shows that the 2012-13 accounts were received 583 days late, while the report for 2013-14 was 218 days late. The annual report for 2014-15 is currently 78 days late.
Despite this and the fact that the trust was close to being struck off by the Charity Commission, the charity was last year awarded a grant of just under £1 million by Edwina Hart, Meryl’s old buddy, for the restoration of the park which occupies around 60 of the 100 acres of land and includes, or included (it is difficult to know which tense to use) a public park with a playground, lake, café and arboretum.
With some difficulty the newspaper managed to track down Mr Salmon who thought, but did not seem very sure, that the closure might have something to do with adverse weather conditions, and concerns of the insurers on health and safety grounds.
Readers in Carmarthenshire may struggle to recall unusually bad weather in recent months, but there you are.
Mr Salmon was clearly not best pleased with critical blog posts and press reports published in 2015, and told the Herald that he could have shut the whole place up and kept it private.
But then Edwina wouldn’t have given him £1 million, would she?
Another one to watch.
This is a local fund run by local people
As we have seen, grants are available from all sorts of different bodies, but what the Americans would call the 800 lb gorilla in this jungle is without doubt the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The fund’s website lists 2,785 projects which have received funding in Wales. Amounts vary from a couple of hundred pounds, to mammoths such as Cardigan Castle (£6.5 million) and Llanelly House (£3.6 million).
The HLF divides the UK into regions and nations, and each of these has its own committee and permanent head. The head of HLF Wales is someone called Richard Bellamy, whose previous roles include working on the Channel Tunnel, the National Trust, English Nature and Cornwall Council. If he has a connection with Wales, he is keeping quiet about it.
The committee, which decides on applications in Wales, currently has eight members, and according to HLF’s website:
“The committees are made up of local people recruited through open advertisement. Committees are supported by grant-assessment teams based in the relevant region or country.”
In theory, then, anyone can apply. Who selects the successful candidates is not clear, but it clearly helps if you have worked for English Heritage or the National Trust and, ideally, come from somewhere in or near Cardiff.
Chairing the committee is the august personage of Baroness Kay Andrews of Southover OBE. Andrews, who grew up at Ystrad Mynach, was parliamentary clerk in the House of Commons before becoming policy adviser to Neil Kinnock, from where she went on to found and run her own charity, Education Extra.
On elevation to the peerage, Andrews clearly felt so strongly about her Welsh roots that she chose Southover in Sussex for her title, and it is from Sussex that she claims travel expenses when going to the House of Lords.
The HLF’s rule on appointing ‘local people’ to the Welsh Committee does not seem to be taken that seriously, but no doubt there was nobody ‘locally’ up to the job, just as there were no suitable Welsh candidates for the post of Head of HLF Wales.
But we should all be grateful, shouldn’t we?
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Jac says . . . In these recent posts – and, indeed, in the one I’m working on now – we encounter groups and individuals who have hit on a method of subsidising their move to Wales and/or maintaining themselves once they’re here. Human nature being what it is, this is understandable; what is less easy to understand is why these people are being funded.
To explain how this scam system operates . . . let’s say you want to buy and renovate a somewhat dilapidated old house. And let’s say you pay £100,000 for that property knowing that it will cost another £100,000 to restore. That house will therefore cost you £200,000. But that’s a mug’s way of doing things. What those we’re discussing do is buy a property and get someone else to pay for the renovation. Sticking with the same figures, this means that for an outlay of just £100,000 they get a property worth £200,000.
To which you respond, ‘Ah, but Jac, you’ve been on the Malbec again, and it’s making you forget that these are important buildings, of great historical or cultural significance’. I suppress my usual riposte of ‘bollocks!’ to offer the following argument.
If these buildings are indeed of great historic or cultural significance then they should be in public ownership – WELSH public ownership. If they are not of great historic or cultural significance then no public money should be expended, whether directly or in grants to self-appointed ‘heritage trusts’. The worst of all possible options is to have a building or site of genuine national importance privately owned but maintained by public funds.
This is nothing less than submitting to a form of blackmail – ‘This place I own is very important (take my word for it), but if you don’t give me lots of money I’ll let it decay/fall down/ be turned into a burger joint’.
As I and others have argued, Wales needs a new body, answerable to us, the Welsh people, that protects what is important to us and our past with sympathy and respect. A new body to replace the English National Trust, Cadw, and all the strangers in our midst with their grant-grabbing ‘trusts’.
Having followed a series of excellent reports published by Jac related to the custodianship of our nation’s heritage, I should like to return to that telling mission statement of the National Trust for Scotland:-
“Scotland’s rich cultural heritage is not only an invaluable economic and social resource, it is what gives Scotland’s people a sense of belonging and identity; as such it is one of our nation’s most precious assets.” Read it for yourself.
A sense of belonging and identity …
So what are the priorities of the official custodians of our nation’s heritage? And what does that reveal about how they see the Welsh people and their identity?
Just to recap, the most prominent custodians of our nation’s heritage are:-
Cadw sets out its own three-fold mission statement with admirable clarity:-
“We conserve Wales’s heritage.”
“We help people understand and care about their history.”
“We help sustain the distinctive character of Wales.”
Worthy goals but, as we all know, there are mission statements and mission statements. Some provide organizations with clarity of purpose, motivation and a tool for making better decisions and focusing resources. Others are sidestepped and forgotten with the same ease with which they were adopted – in short, a complete waste of time and effort.
Let’s take a look at what Cadw does in practice. Their resourcing priorities, exhibitions and events, educational activities, and interpretation of historical sites, is overwhelmingly skewed towards the Edwardian Conquest castles – Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech, Rhuddlan, Criccieth and Flint. These are, after all, the great draws for visiting English tourists, and for UK Lottery grants.
Furthermore, in its interpretation of historical sites, Cadw presents a very one-sided view of Welsh history. The significance of the conquest castles was encapsulated by Thomas Pennant in 1772 when he described Caernarfon Castle as “the most magnificent badge of our subjection”. It is for this reason that some have questioned whether CADW’s name was in fact an acronym for “Celebrate All Defeats of the Welsh”.
Cadw fails utterly, for example, to link the construction of the conquest castles with the corresponding systematic looting and destruction of all of the sites, structures and artefacts associated with sovereign and independent Welsh power and authority – Aberconwy Abbey (the mausoleum of the Princes of Gwynedd), the royal “llys” at Aberffraw, the Welsh regalia including the “Talaith” (coronet) and “Y Groes Naid” (the sacred relic believed to be a fragment of the True Cross).
So what is the aspect of the Welsh identity that Cadw seeks to present, in order to foster our nation’s understanding of our history and distinctive character? Subjection. English overlordship. The futility of aspiring to our own national destiny.
The secondary areas of focus for Cadw appear to be the castles of the Marches, those bastions of alien encroachment. Chepstow, Monmouth, Skenfrith, Grosmont, Tretower, Montgomery, Oxwich, Weobley, Kidwelly, Llansteffan, Cilgerran. Again, these are presented in a sanitized manner that utterly disregards the centuries of racial segregation of Englishries and Welshries, of penal laws excluding the Welsh from holding offices, or living, trading or owning property in the boroughs developed for English colonists under the protection of those castles.
Meanwhile, the recent article highlighting the “Powis” Castle experience showed how uninterested and ill-equipped the National Trust is to foster an understanding in our nation of our own history and distinctive character. The National Trust perpetuates the 19th century taxonomic convention: “For Wales, see England”.
For the National Trust, any historical interpretation of its sites beyond the superficial Downton Abbey upstairs-downstairs world of Anglo-gentry of the 18th and 19th centuries and their anonymous native servants falls well outside their comfort zone. This is the context in which their sites at Newton House (Dinefwr), Penrhyn Castle, Llanerchaeron and Tredegar are presented.
To illustrate further the stupendous bias of the custodians of our nation’s heritage in presenting our history, I have started to gather a list of the most neglected (or misrepresented) sites of primary importance in the history of Wales, focusing on sites that pre-date the Acts of Union (or Penal Assimilation Acts) of the 1530s.
Here is the list that I have gathered to date:-
Sycharth (“Llys Owain Glyndŵr“). This was the birthplace and home of Owain Glyndŵr, our last Welsh Prince of Wales, and the subject of Iolo Goch’s famous poem. The buildings were destroyed by Harry of Monmouth (later Henry V, King of England) in 1403. For a description of the shameful neglect of this site today, I commend this article.
Church of SS. Mael and Sulien, Corwen. The dedication to two Welsh saints of the 6th century indicates that this lovely 14th century building is located on the site of a church foundation of great antiquity. This is believed to have been the location where Owain Glyndŵr was acclaimed as the true and rightful Prince of Wales on 16 September 1400 in the presence of Ieuan Trefor, Bishop of St. Asaph. It is this event that elevates this site to one of primary importance in the history of our nation, and the proper focal point for annual celebrations of Owain Glyndŵr Day (Sept 16).
Church of St Peter ad Vincula, Pennal (Gwynedd). The church was founded in the 6th century, but was so re-named and dedicated by Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales, in competition with the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, one of the chapels royal of his rival, Henry IV, King of England. Pennal was regarded with honour because of its status as one of the 21 llysoedd, the courts of the true Welsh Princes of Gwynedd. The real significance of this site stems from it being the location of the parliament at which Owain Glyndŵr set out his policy programme for the independent state of Wales, recorded in the famous “Pennal Letter” addressed to Charles VI, King of France. The enlightened policies which he expounded included establishing two universities in Wales, one in the North and one in the South, ending the subjection of the metropolitan church of St. David (St. David’s Cathedral) to Canterbury, re-establishing the independence of the Welsh Church, and ending oppression “by the fury of the barbarous Saxons”.
Bryn Glas (Pilleth) battlefield. The battle, which was fought on 22 June 1402, near the towns of Knighton and Presteigne (Powys), was one of the greatest Welsh victories against an English army in the open field. It paved the way for a truly national rising in Wales, the establishment of an independent state ruled by Owain Glyndŵr, our last Welsh Prince of Wales, and the alliance with France. The battle also provoked punitive expeditions by Henry IV (King of England) that were marked by many acts of brutality and rape.
Aberffraw “Llys/Maerdref”. This is the site of the “llys” (royal court) of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, from the 9th to 12th century, and symbolic throne of the Kings of Gwynedd until the 13th century Wars of Independence. The Llys was dismantled in 1315 to provide building materials for nearby Beaumaris Castle.
Abergwyngregyn. This site, surrounded by the most majestic scenery, was the seat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, and location of his brother Dafydd’s capture by the English invaders in 1283. Abergwyngregyn is also the setting for “Siwan”, Saunders Lewis’s masterpiece of Welsh language drama based on the marriage of Siwan/Joan (daughter of the King of England) and Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales.
Aberconwy Abbey (pre-conquest site). On this site a Cistercian house was developed under the patronage of Llywelyn the Great and his successors. This was the burial place of Llywelyn the Great, his sons Dafydd and Gruffudd. It was also seat of “Y Groes Naid” kept by the kings of Gwynedd, the sacred relic believed to be a fragment of the True Cross, expropriated by the English (with the “Talaith” and other Welsh regalia) in 1283 and removed to London. In an act of deliberate symbolism, Edward I (King of England) destroyed this mausoleum of the princes of Gwynedd following the Wars of Independence in order to build his own castle on the site where the abbey had stood.
When will our nation have worthy custodians of our own historical, architectural and cultural heritage? When will the official custodians accept and apply the guiding principle in of the National Trust for Scotland that the nation’s heritage is so much more than an economic resource: it gives our people “a sense of belonging and identity”? When will they truly embrace the goals of helping our nation to “understand and care about their history” and sustaining “the distinctive character of Wales”?
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Jac adds . . . Anyone who is still in any doubt about Cadw’s purpose should know that in a few weeks time Caernarfon Castle will host an orgy of Britishness that will seek to engender loyalty to the most unequal and undemocratic state in Europe by cynically exploiting the butchery of the First World War. Yes, folks, the poppies are coming to town!
So get great-uncle Arthur’s medals out of the cupboard, bone up on the Somme, explain to the kids that Britain was defending democracy and freedom, and start whistling Tipperary.
Our guest writer mentioned Y Groes Naid, and while no one knows what it looked like, a few years back someone knocked up an imagined Groes Naid. I can’t be sure, but I’m reasonably certain it was somehow connected with Cambria magazine. Maybe someone reading this will know, so get in touch and I’ll be happy to attribute it. (Click to enlarge.)
Our guest writer also mentioned the coffin of Llywelyn Fawr; well I visited St Grwst’s earlier this year and I would recommend that all patriots do the same.
UPDATE 09.09.2016: Someone has made me aware of a consultation process being undertaken by the ‘Welsh Government on proposals for secondary legislation to support the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Here’s a link. Also available is Technical Advice Note (TAN) 24 asking for “your views on . . . detailed planning advice on the historic environment in Wales”.
Was anyone aware of this legislation, this ‘consultation’ process? Or was it restricted to interested parties guaranteed not to challenge the status quo? Anyway, the deadline is October 3, so tell them what you think.
To properly understand this article it’s best to know a little of the legislative and other background, and when we put it all together it should warn us that what we see at Red Pig Farm (yes, honestly, Red Pig Farm) is one element of the dystopian future envisioned for the Welsh countryside by our masters down in Cardiff Bay. (ALT = Agroecology Land Trust Ltd.)
‘WELSH’ LABOUR, DAVIES OUT, HOWE IN
First, though, let us reflect on the role of Alun Davies AM (then Minister for Natural Resources and Food) who, in January 2014, announced that the government he represented had decided to transfer 15% of EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. (See it here.) Which meant that henceforth this money, instead of going to our farmers, would be spent on “rural development projects”, most of which will have nothing to do with real farming, and little or nothing to do with Welsh people.
But then, it might be argued that Davies had form when it came to undermining Welsh agriculture, for after the heavy snow of March 2013, when farmers in the north east were particularly badly hit, he announced there would be no ‘Welsh’ Government aid. Justifying the decision with these priceless words (April 3, 2013, BBC Wales News), “You don’t create a strong business base by throwing public money at every problem you face”.
Yes, folks, that came from a ‘Welsh’ Government minister; a representative of an administration, and a political party, that believes there should be a Nobel Prize for frittering away public money.
Despite these manifest idiocies and insults to the collective intelligence the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) Ltd is now law, and is already being taken advantage of by those seeking to move to Wales.
Such as James Scrivens and Sara Tommerup, he English, she Danish. This enterprising duo are the proprietors of the Agroecology Land Trust Ltd, based at the above-mentioned Red Pig Farm, which was carved out of Forestry Commission land near Bethlehem, Carmarthenshire, some years ago, long before Scrivens and Tommerup discovered Wales. We shall return to them anon.
ENTER JANE DAVIDSON LABOUR(?) AM
For in addition to the legislation I’ve mentioned, in 2011 those buffoons down Cardiff docks also accepted the diktats of the One Planet Council. As it says on its website, “The One Planet Council provides a bridge between applicants and local planning authorities, with guidance and tools to support anyone making the transition to this more sustainable way of life. It works also with those who have already made that leap, and with policymakers, academics and landowners.”
In other words, it helps good-lifers, bullock worshippers and others move to Wales and get retrospective planning permission for buildings they’ve erected without consent – even in National Parks. And they can do it because they have the support of the ‘Welsh’ Government. (By the way, that reads bullock . . . though I suppose bollocks-worshippers applies just as well.)
A major reason for the direction taken by the ‘Welsh’ Government in this period is Jane Davidson, former AM for Pontypridd, and now chief Patron of the One Planet Council. It was she who persuaded her colleagues to agree to its agenda before she stood down in May 2011 as Minister for the Environment. After leaving the Assembly she also became director of the Wales Institute for Sustainability (INSPIRE) at Trinity St David Lampeter.
Jane Davidson is one of those middle class Englishwomen one finds in the National Trust, Cadw, and other bodies, who believes that the Welsh countryside is too naice to be left to us; it needs to be run by people like her and those she feels comfortable with, whose numbers can be increased by elbowing the backward locals aside.
For make no mistake, Davidson represents the Green lobby and others who want greater access to the Welsh countryside, and freedom to use and exploit our rural areas as they wish. One such group would obviously be the Ramblers Association, for whom she became ‘Welsh’ President almost immediately she’d left the Assembly.
At Davidson’s direction, fully supported by coalition partners Plaid Cymru, and groups and individuals unlikely to vote for either party, the ‘Welsh’ Government produced, in May 2009, One Wales: One Planet, a document setting out how we are to reduce Wales’ carbon footprint.
Among the ambitions articulated by this document, that could have been been written by Friends of the Earth (and might well have been), we find, “Within the lifetime of a generation, we want to see Wales using only its fair share of the earth’s resources, and where our ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources – 1.88 global hectares per person”.
So there you are, we’re all entitled to 1.88 global hectares per person – claim yours while stocks last!
Jane Davidson was able to walk into the post of Minister for the Environment because she was one of the few Labour AMs who knew anything about that mysterious world beyond Merthyr known as ‘The Countryside’, inhabited by strange creatures most of whom steadfastly refused to vote Labour.
So she had free rein in the Dark Regions and Plaid to vouch for her in quarters where she might have encountered suspicion or hostility.
Which meas that we could view her appointment at INSPIRE as the reward from the enviro-colon network she had so assiduously worked for while at the Assembly – cos she sure as hell didn’t represent the people of Pontypridd.
But as we know, politicians are not supposed to take up posts connected with their previous ministerial duties. Davidson obviously did by taking the job at INSPIRE and was reprimanded for it . . . but edited her Wikipedia page to hide her little embarrassment.
N.B. You may have noted that even though Wales is the only country to have adopted the One Planet agenda, and this outfit operates only in Wales, OP haven’t got round to doing a Welsh version of the website.
HIPPY, HIPPY STATE
Let’s wend our way back to Red Pig Farm and the happy couple. There can be no doubt that James Scrivens and Sara Tommerup relocated to Wales because of the favouritism shown towards their ilk by the ‘Welsh’ Government. For as it says on the Red Pig Farm website:
I love that phrase “reactionary and conservative local council”. Translated, it means, ‘People who represent the wishes of the majority when confronted with the unreasonable demands of recently-arrived Alternatives’.
Before relocating to Carmarthenshire we find Scrivens and Tommerup in Gloucestershire, running the Yorkley Court Community Farm Ltd near Lydney, a company struck off in August 2015 without apparently doing any business. According to this BBC Points West report it seems that Yorkley Court Community Farm was in fact a squatter camp.
Another company they were involved with at that time was Agroecological Land Initiative Ltd, Incorporated February 24, 2015. The name was changed on April 14, 2015 to Agroecology Land Trust Ltd, and then, on June 26, 2016, to Red Pig Farm Ltd.
Scrivens and Tommerup have settled in quite well, among their ventures is a stake in the Llandeilo Food Hub in a disused railway wagon at the local station. As the report in the West Wales News Review tells us, this project is grant-aided by the ‘Welsh’ Government.
There now follows a short diversion . . .
The Llandeilo Food Hub seems to come under the umbrella of the Heart of Wales Line Development Company Ltd, yet another ‘community venture’ run by those whose parents and grandparents are buried somewhere else. In more senses than one, the company appears to be up a siding, for the latest accounts tell us it has net assets of only £20,169, and is kept in the black through the generosity of a director not insisting on payment of her £35,500 loan.
This benefactrix is Gillian Elizabeth Wright. Now if that name rings a bell then it might be because I wrote about her and her Llandovery Hub, in Ancestral Turf. (I’d like to tell you more about Llandovery Hub, but the website offers neither Companies House registration number nor Charity Commission number. Nothing turns up on the FCA website, either. What kind of outfit is this?)
The Level Crossing Community Interest Company was yet another ‘community venture’ that was only ‘viable’ with public funding and, like thousands of others, that have swallowed hundreds of millions of pounds, it has been a complete waste of money.
UPDATE 07.09.2016: Here’s a report in a local paper from mid-July 2013, before the business opened, with the date suggesting that this tourism venture had already lost half the summer. The report tells us that the building was leased from the owner, Neo Neophyton. Does anyone know to whom it was leased, and the terms?
Moving back to Red Pig Farm we see that Scrivens and Tommerup are seeking human company, for they have submitted a planning application for more dwellings at the ‘farm’, which lies in open country and, remember, in a National Park! But thanks to the legislation passed by the ‘Welsh’ Government they anticipate no problems.
“We are fully aware of the many challenges in obtaining residential planning permission in the open countryside. However, thanks to the pioneering foresight of the Welsh government a planning framework to support low-impact rural developments known as One Planet Development is in place to guide applications that seek to demonstrate the ecological benefits from the creation of sustainable land based livelihoods”.
Finally, let me conclude this passage by highlighting an inconsistency. According to the One Planet gurus and others we must reduce our carbon emissions. Fair enough. Yet Red Pig Farm is also home to Black Mountain Wood Fuels, and as we know, burning wood creates higher carbon dioxide emissions than any other fuel.
Which seems to expose a contradiction in the back-to-nature schema. For the desire to protect the planet obviously conflicts with the wish to live ‘naturally’ by burning wood. And believe me, those seeking the ‘alternative’ lifestyle do love to burn wood.
Corris (Isaf) is home to many such people, thanks to the nearby Centre for Alternative Technology (of which, incidentally, Sara Tommerup is a ‘graduate’). One can drive the A487 past Corris on a still winter’s day and see a vast pall of smoke motionless above the village. It reminds me of the old films of London smog.
And I haven’t considered the issue of regenerating the stocks of wood.
Let’s recap: through legislation and other measures the ‘Welsh’ Government has made life more difficult for Welsh farmers and others who were born and raised in the countryside, while making it much easier – with both funding and relaxation of planning rules – for outsiders to settle in our rural areas.
Now let’s put it all into its chronological sequence:
May 2007: Birmingham-born Jane Davidson appointed Minister for Environment and Sustainability in the Labour – Plaid Cymru coalition government.
April 29, 2015: Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 becomes law.
Spring 2016: James Scrivens and Sara Tommerup arrive at Red Pig Farm, and almost immediately apply for planning permission to erect other dwellings, in open country, and in a National Park.
And all this takes place to the background drone of George Monbiot in his regular Guardian column and elsewhere calling on governments to remove farming subsidies, bankrupt Welsh farmers, and thereby remove sheep from the hills to allow ‘rewilding‘. His voice being one of a chorus. It may be no coincidence that Monbiot moved to the Machynlleth area in 2007.
I’m sure the envirofascists and their political allies would argue that Welsh people are free to get involved, and join them in building their carbon-free (well, apart from the wood stoves) Utopia in our green and pleasant land.
Trouble with that is that I don’t know any Welsh people who want to live in a turf house choking on fumes from a wood fire and shitting in the bushes before batting away the sheep turds while taking a bath in the stream.
The people I know want the best that modern life can offer, and wonder why they have to go without, especially when they see so much money being given a) to people who arrived here yesterday, and b) to activities from which they derive no benefit.
There are so many demands on the Welsh countryside today, from tourism, from the ‘outdoor activities’ industry, from the military (even more so if Scotland becomes independent), from white flighters, from good-lifers, and from so many other quarters. The problem, when viewed from the perspective of such people, is that far too much Welsh land is still in Welsh hands.
And while the Planning Inspectorate can demand tens of thousands of new homes surplus to local need, and housing associations can waste tens of millions of pounds building homes for tenants who have never been to Wales in their lives, and the local economy can be allowed to atrophy with the few jobs that remain increasingly filled by transfers from outside Wales and recruitment from within the local English population, something more is still needed.
♦ ♦ ♦
Which is why, when we consider the bigger picture, and remember the commitment of vast sums of public funding, we have to conclude that moving money around within the CAP, and One Planet, and TAN 6, and all the other ‘Green’ initiatives are just elements of a wider programme of engineered demographic change. A Clearance for the twenty-first century, done without the unsightly bloodshed and the blatant expropriation.
In my more generous moments I used to think that the Assembly and the ‘Welsh’ Government were merely incompetent for achieving so little for our people. But enough time has passed now to realise that this failure is quite deliberate. Worse, successive ‘Welsh’ Governments have actively discriminated against the native Welsh.
Nothing would change if Plaid Cymru had a majority in the Assembly, things might even be worse, because while many in Labour see the envirofascists as just a stick with which to beat those who refuse to vote for them, The Party of Wales has fallen completely under their spell.
The survival of the Welsh nation is under threat as never before. To save the nation we must reject all political parties, and the distraction of electoral politics. There is no hope of winning by that route, and not enough time.
Ystrad Fflur, or to give it its ‘English’ name, Strata Florida, is a quiet, remote and beautiful place. The Cistercians chose it as a site to build a great abbey and monastery precisely because it was off the beaten track, with huge expanses of grazing for their sheep and cattle and plentiful water from Afon Fflur, a tributary of the Teifi.
There are ruined monastic sites with more to see, but Ystrad Fflur has enough to fire up the imagination, and you can spend an hour or two wandering around with the place pretty much to yourself, except for a couple of times a year when Cadw puts on events to bring in the crowds. The highlight this year is a “Spooky Halloween Day” when you can follow a secret trail to discover ingredients for a witch’s spell.
Quite what Rhys ap Gruffudd, the abbots and monks would have felt about this combination of commercialised Anglo-American popular culture and the occult is not difficult to imagine because the whole point of Ystrad Fflur was to be a beacon of Welsh Christianity and culture, and a counterweight to the increasingly intrusive Anglo-Normans with their policies of military control and colonial assimilation.
What keeps the hordes away is in part the almost complete lack of facilities (no gifte shoppes or tea rooms here), partly the remoteness of the place, and partly because to make sense of Ystrad Fflur and why these fairly modest piles of stone are so special, you need to know something about Welsh history and culture. There is a sense of deep and abiding Cymreictod about Ystrad Fflur, and to understand the place is to understand the dreams and hopes of this nation.
Enhancing the visitor experience
All of this may be about to change thanks to some heritage industry “charities” which want to ‘enhance the visitor experience’ with government grants and huge dollops of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund in a scheme which would keep their bosses in clover for decades to come.
Brace yourselves for the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro serving heritage monks’ brew, herbal liqueurs made to ancient and “long-lost” secret recipes, sustainable medieval burgers and Brother Anselm’s Amusement Park for the kiddies.
The site is owned by the Church in Wales and managed by Cadw which sensibly closes the place for 5 months a year, but visitors who want to save themselves a few quid and don’t mind the winter weather can nip over the fence and wander round for free.
The threat to Ystrad Fflur as we know it comes not from Cadw directly, although Cadw executives are almost certainly cheering it on, but from two charities called the Strata Florida Trust and the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, formerly known as Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr.
High Tea in the Trenches
For those of you reaching for your dictionaries, that splendid name translates as the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, and it was under the Welsh name that the trust carried out the restoration of the Georgian patrician residence known as Llanelly House.
There was always something a little odd about the use of that Welsh name to cover all the sensitive financial and legal stuff, while steadfastly refusing to drop that Anglicising ‘y’ from Llanelly.
If Ystrad Fflur was built to be a beacon of Welsh culture against the rising tide of Anglo-Norman influence, the ‘y’ in Llanelly signifies that here is a genteel oasis of English culture in a sea of rough Welsh working class awfulness. More Gilbert and Sullivan than Sosban Fach.
Running the show in Llanelli is CEO and Company Secretary Claire Deacon, originally from Southampton, who says that she is passionate about restoring old buildings. The £7 million restoration of the Georgian mansion in Llanelli was indeed a fine piece of work, funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Welsh European Funding Office and ‘Welsh’ Government, with enthusiastic backing from Carmarthenshire County Council and the veteran Cllr Meryl Gravell.
Cllr Gravell, never a shrinking violet, likes to use Llanelly House as a backdrop for some of her many media appearances as evidence of how, in her own mind at least, she has transformed the town’s fortunes.
Other visitors come to enjoy a Palm Court High Tea, tapas evenings, murder mystery events, ‘Afternoon Tea with the Harmony Wellbeing Charity’, displays of military medals and Dad’s Army costumes, a Somme exhibition – and a special treat – a special showing of one (yes, 1) of those ceramic poppies previously displayed at the Tower of London.
What could be more patriotically British than a nice scone, a cup of Darjeeling and a lot of sanitised, misty-eyed reminiscence about British military achievements, minus any references to awkward characters such as Hedd Wyn or the criminal incompetence of the top brass?
Fresh from the triumph in Llanelli, Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr cast around for more Carmarthenshire buildings to save, and discovered the old YMCA building in Merthyr Tydfil.
A quick glance at the map showed the trustees that there was just one small problem here – Merthyr is not in Carmarthenshire. So the name and the ‘operational footprint’ of the charity were eventually changed to the more English-friendly Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust.
Once again, the trust managed to trouser phone-number size grants from the Welsh Government and local council as well as £2.6million from the Lottery. The plan was to bring ‘café society’ and 877 sq. m of new offices and work space for “the modern creative industries and the traditional professions” (a description that covers all eventualities from software development to massage parlours) to the good people of Pontmorlais, but so far it appears to have just been used for ‘reminiscing days’ and free tours of an empty shell for school kids.
Just how little progress has been made in the years since the trust acquired the YMCA building can be see from this family snapshot:
In the red
The Llanelly House project overran significantly in terms of time and money, but is now finally up and running. In the trust’s accounts for 2014-15 the chairman notes, “It is essential that we develop the skills and vicissitude necessary to ensure that Llanelly House becomes a sustainable business so that it act (sic) as a model and example to our future projects”.
The latest annual report which, incidentally, would fail an English GCSE examination badly, goes on to note that visitor numbers, average spend and the commercial operations at Llanelly House did not meet expectations, something which “has lead (sic) to the shortfall”.
The extent of the shortfall becomes apparent when we read the independent auditors’ report which notes that the trust had a deficit of unrestricted funds of £59,910 at 31 March 2015, “ indicating the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the Charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
Needless to say, the charity’s director trustees took a different view, saying that they should still be considered a ‘going concern’ because (a) they have reached an agreement with Llanelli Town Council to defer indefinitely the repayment of a working capital loan, although it is doubtful if Llanelli Council tax payers have been consulted, and (b) put in place a ‘turnaround strategy’ for the activities of their commercial operating subsidiary running Llanelly House, which is running at a loss.
In addition to Llanelli Town Council, another major creditor is Finance Wales, and the accounts show a total of £437,527 outstanding in working capital loans. The trust is also pinning its hopes on renegotiating terms with Finance Wales, and a growing stream of consultancy revenue provided by CHRT Ventures Ltd.
This last hope remains something of a mystery, but consultancy is clearly something the CHRT trustees are very keen on. Claire Deacon (CEO and Company Secretary, remember) was paid £56,787 in consultancy fees, and the charity also spent £2,000 on undefined (consultancy?) services from CHRT Ventures Ltd, as well as borrowing £14,720 from the same source. Not to mention other services and loans provided by another company in the same group, Plas Llanelly House Cyf. (There was even Llanelly House Trading Ltd., which bit the dust in December 2014. Jac.)
All very odd.
In common with so many other modern, forward-looking charities, Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust (CHRT) is almost completely dependent on grants. Income for 2014-15 was £724,460, of which donations accounted for just £1,325.
Another change of operational footprint
Material uncertainty, targets not met, hope that the creditors will be forgiving, hopes of future consultancy income, lots of peculiar inter-company magic and rather less than bugger all in the bank. Combine that with the Chairman’s barely coded warnings that the charity has got to up its game, and you might think that the trustees would be wondering where their CEO (appointed back in 2011) is leading them.
With Llanelly House now finally up and tottering towards an uncertain future, and the prospect of another large project in Merthyr looming, you would think that the trustees’ enthusiasm for yet another ambitious scheme might have been exhausted, but in that same annual report for 2014-15 we read that the trust was ploughing ahead with the acquisition of Mynachlog Fawr (or Great Abbey Farm) at Ystrad Fflur.
A single donation of £200,000 was received in May 2014, and the trust took out an option to buy. The annual report notes that the lawyers were dealing with this while Ms Deacon “concentrates of (sic) further fundraising with our project partner, Professor David Austin”, about whom more in a moment.
Strangely, since the report was published, the farm was acquired not by CHRT but the Strata Florida Trust, chaired by Professor Austin, in July of this year.
Claire Deacon has come on board as Project Director for the Strata Florida Centre Project, reporting to the Strata Florida Trust, while Professor Austin will run a separate “Strata Florida Research Project” in parallel.
How CHRT fits in with all this is not at all clear, even though in its 2015 report CHRT was manifestly confident that it would be running the show and had received a £200,000 donation towards it.
The board of the Strata Florida Trust is made up of various academics, the great and good and a retired British Army Lieutenant-General, Jonathon Riley, whose interests include the history and “maintaining the military efficiency” of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Perhaps future visitors to Ystrad Fflur can look forward to floodlit military tattoos and, who knows, we may even get an assault course. (Continues after ‘The Life of Riley’.)
THE LIFE OF RILEY
At first sight it may look odd that a retired Lieutenant General from England whose interests are military history and warfare should become a trustee of a charity set up to determine the fate of a ruined abbey in Ceredigion founded to champion the cause of Welsh independence and Welsh culture, but it’s who rather than what you know that matters.
Jonathon Riley, who is among other things a Companion of the Order of the Bath, grew up in Yorkshire, Sussex and the Channel Islands. A product of English public schools and Sandhurst, he began his military career with the Queen’s Regiment before transferring to the Royal Welch Fusiliers as an experienced hand who could be trusted to keep the native recruits in their place.
Hobnobbing with the Windsors and the legion of upper middle class camp followers who surround them eventually resulted in marriage to upwardly mobile BBC Wales news reader, Sara Edwards.
Edwards’ extra curricular activities include being Vice Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and Duke of Edinburgh Awards and member of the council of University of Wales, Lampeter.
Having retired from the British Army, Riley was appointed to the plum establishment job of Director General and Master of the Royal Armouries. His rather sanitised Wikipedia entry says that he resigned from this job to undergo treatment for prostate cancer, but here is a snippet from The Independent from 2013:
“Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, a retired infantry officer, former NATO commander and distinguished military historian, was suspended as Master of the Armouries over an auditing inquiry in May, only to resign from the post six months later. It can now be revealed that he was suspended after senior staff were given irregularly large pay increases at a time when the museum’s budget was being slashed.”
Honourable retirement on health grounds after this unfortunate revelation of rampant cronyism was clearly enough to salvage Riley’s reputation, and he went on to be appointed to two committees in Cardiff Bay where he now advises the ‘Welsh’ Government on how to commemorate World War One.
The departed souls of Welsh cannon fodder must be looking down and wondering what their deaths achieved, because 100 years on here is an English military toff, the successor of all those other public school generals who rounded up the Welsh and sent them off to walk slowly towards German machine guns, making sure that the Somme and other slaughters are remembered as the necessary sacrifice of brave British patriots who laid down their lives for the King.
Riley and Edwards, who have a holiday home in Carmarthenshire not far from Big Ears’ retreat at Llwynwormwood, together illustrate nicely how in 21st century democratic Wales, you can get yourselves appointed to numerous influential jobs and committees without ever having to face the voters or even spending much time here.
Any civil servants or grant dispensers tapped by Professor Austin’s charity for dosh are unlikely to put up any resistance knowing that there is a hot line to old Big Ears.
Bearing in mind that under Ms Deacon CHRT expanded its “operational footprint” to cover the whole of Wales, she has chosen to live about as far as she can get from most of the country by basing herself in Marloes. While Llanelly House is a mere 57 miles distant, Ystrad Fflur is 83 miles away along narrow country lanes, and Merthyr is a cool 95 miles.
If she is concentrating on Mynachlog Fawr, Llanelly House and Merthyr are hardly likely to get much of a look-in.
Mynachlog Fawr comprises a Grade II* listed farmhouse, some listed mid-nineteenth century stone barns and various other more recent structures.
The farm itself came into existence after the dissolution of the abbey, and certainly was never a part of the Cistercians’ landscape. It was the childhood home of Charles Arch, a well known personality on the Welsh farming scene, and appears to have been acquired at some point in more recent years by Lampeter University.
Although the house and some of the outbuildings are listed and attractive to look at, they are in relatively good condition and hardly of national importance. There are plenty more farmhouses and barns like them all over Wales.
How the farm came to be acquired by Lampeter University, presumably with public money, and whether it was the university which sold the place to Professor Austin’s trust are questions readers may be able to help with.
So why was CHRT, whose purpose is to “regenerate the physical and other heritage of Wales”, so keen to acquire a not particularly special group of farm buildings not in need of rescue?
The answer would seem to be that heritage industry Eldorado: millions and millions of lovely grant money to fund pet projects for years if not decades to come.
This grand scheme has been Professor Austin’s pipe dream since 1999, and he envisages turning the farm into a centre with all sorts of activities. “At the moment these fall under five broad headings, although these will undoubtedly expand as we develop our plans and talk to potential partners”, writes the professor on the Strata Florida project website, where just about everything is copyrighted to the great man personally.
It will be sustainable; enhance the visitor experience; there will be summer schools and workshops; ecological tourism; it will foster the arts and traditional skills; it will help locals to “advance senses of their own identity and wellbeing”; it will create events and activities to enhance human well-being in recognition of the abbey’s great infirmary and holy wells; and much, much more besides.
If that all sounds a bit, well, woolly, we can get a glimpse of a rather more tangible project design here on the website of architects Acanthus Holden who were commissioned to come up with a plan that includes a visitor centre and “a small exclusive hotel”.
One of the benefits of all this, of course, is the carrot of new jobs in Pontrhydfendigaid and the surrounding area. Whether the owners and employees of existing hotels, such as the nearby Black Lion, cafés and other local businesses would be quite so enthusiastic about having to compete with an entirely grant funded and heavily subsidised newcomer is another matter, and locals may find that the professor’s vision will entail the demise of established local businesses.
In another review carried out by The Prince’s Trust, the recommendation was for self- catering accommodation as opposed to the Acanthus hotel.
No doubt Ms Deacon, Professor Austin and their friends have already come up with a business plan to explain how all these aims can be achieved and become commercially viable in a remote rural location, far from the coast and next to a ruined abbey which is closed for five months of the year. In a climate which is not exactly Chiantishire.
Even more confusingly, Professor Austin’s vision for Mynachlog Fawr and the wider Ystrad Fflur site appears to vary depending on his audience. Is it to be a New Age hangout for city types wanting to commune with nature in a sustainable and ecological sort of way, or is it to be a “small, exclusive hotel” with a visitor centre attached? Or is it to be the front end of what sounds in this video like the ultimate archaeological wet dream: a vast and endless dig extending across a swathe of countryside to uncover whatever is left of what the prof claims may be the largest Cistercian monastery in Britain, “if not Europe”. Or even the universe.
Where this forest of trusts and companies leaves Llanelly House and the Merthyr YMCA is an interesting question. Is Claire Deacon still CEO and Company Secretary in Llanelli? It would seem so. How did Mynachlog Fawr come into the ownership of Lampeter University, as it then was, and why did it end up being acquired by the Strata Florida Trust rather than CHRT with its expanded operational footprint, and on what terms?
Answers on a postcard please.
In the meantime, it may be a good idea to head up to Ystrad Fflur and enjoy it while you can before Professor Austin and Ms Deacon set about improving our experience and indulging their hobbies.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jac says:While this piece was being written I though I’d try to help by doing some background work.
The first and obvious question was – ‘Who owns Ystrad Fflur / Strata Florida? The answer (as you’ve read) is that the Abbey ruins are owned by the Church in Wales. In 2008 the Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy, was appointed ‘Guardian’. Here are the relevant documents from the Land Registry.
That role of ‘Guardian’ may have been subsequently transferred to the ‘Welsh’ Government, because in June 2010 “The Welsh Ministers” bought an adjoining parcel of land. No price is given, but unless Rhodri Morgan and his gang had a whip-round this land was purchased with public funding, and we are therefore entitled to know how much of our money was spent.
What of the farm buildings, destined to become the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro – Get In The Habit!! On its website the Strata Florida Trust says, ” . . . the Trust has purchased the historic buildings which until recently formed the working core of Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey farm”. So naturally, I wondered how much had been paid.
I went to the Land Registry website, but found nothing under Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey Farm. Which I thought was a bit naughty, because if the Trust has bought the buildings then not filing the details with the Land Registry is simply a way of withholding information, and again, we are dealing here with the public purse.
(Though, confusingly, the website also says, ” . . . the Strata Florida Trust has acquired the buildings and some adjacent land”. So which is it – ‘purchased the historic buildings’ or ‘acquired the buildings and some adjacent land’?)
UPDATE 03.09.2016: I just unearthed this piece from the Cambrian News dated August 13 which can only be interpreted as announcing the purchase of Mynachlog Fawr. Which strengthens my belief that we are not being told the truth about who owns what, when it was bought, who paid for it, and how much was paid.
Poking around on the Land Registry website unearthed more recent land sales in the area. One involved land quite close to the Abbey and the farm, bought last year by David Thomas Arch and Eleri Arch. Here are the details. Mr and Mrs Arch were the owners of Mynachlog Fawr, so did they sell only the farm buildings, retain the land, and are they now adding to their land holdings?
We must know who owns what at Ystrad Fflur and how much it has cost the Welsh public purse
Over the years I have recounted many stories about the plundering of the Welsh public purse, this is another such tale. Yet another story of strangers to our land finding an old building or site, and instead of respecting a part of our history, appropriating it in order to promote themselves and boost their bank balances.
Claire Deacon of the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust already has two very expensive disasters to her name. Llanelly House may be impressive, but it’s now an economic millstone around the necks of the town and the county. Merthyr YMCA was never viable from the outset, yet the money keeps flowing. And now this woman – who managed, while running the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, to employ herself as a ‘consultant’! – wants more millions from the Welsh public purse to despoil and commercialise Ystrad Fflur.
Her partner in this lurid venture is Professor David Austin, an academic at Lampeter University, who has one eye on a very lucrative retirement and the other on an ‘Honour’. According to Austin Ystrad Fflur may be the biggest Cistercian monastery in the universe . . . in which case it’s too big a job for him and the Lampeter outpost of Trinity St Davids. I would prefer to see a team of French archaeologists with experience of Cistercian sites employed.
Then we have Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley. First, we have to ask what he brings to the party, for Ystrad Fflur is the site of a monastery not a castle? Whatever anyone may think Riley can contribute his profligacy with public funding whilst at the Royal Armouries should disqualify him from any other publicly-funded project, no matter who he knows or who he’s married to.
This squalid project being hatched in Ceredigion is only possible because Wales is a colony of England, with all that that implies. A primitive people unable to do anything for ourselves we must shower with money any shyster who turns up with a half-baked, self-serving bit of nonsense. Our chiefs like it that way because it saves them having to think of better ways of using the money.
There is one lesson to be drawn from the Ystrad Fflur project and one obvious recommendation.
The lesson – articulated on this blog more than once – is that Wales needs a genuinely national conservation body to replace the English National Trust, CADW, Landmark Trust, and all the Claire Deacons infesting our homeland.
The beauty of Ystrad Fflur lies in its remoteness and tranquility. To attract those who wouldn’t bother going had there not been a burger bar and a bouncy castle is to attract the wrong people for the wrong reasons. And the motivation for doing this is obvious.
So here’s the recommendation, for the ‘Welsh’ Government and all other funders:
Pull the plug on this lunatic scheme and leave Ystrad Fflur at peace.