David Lloyd George celebrated his eightieth birthday at his home at Bron-y-de, Churt, Surrey on 17 January 1943. It was an especially tense, potentially explosive occasion for the notoriously feud-racked Lloyd George family. It is a most useful and insightful vantage point from which to view, firstly, inter-relationships within the family structure, secondly, to examine Lloyd George’s many very real achievements as a farmer at his home at Bron-y-de, and thirdly to dissect his often negative, even unpatriotic viewpoints on the allied conduct of the Second World War.
In 1943, nearly two years had elapsed since the death of Dame Margaret Lloyd George at her north Wales home, Bryn Awelon, Criccieth. Lloyd George had always promised his private secretary and mistress of thirty years’ standing, Frances Stevenson, that, should his wife predecease him, he would, after a decent interval had elapsed, make an ‘honest woman’ of her. The occasion of his eightieth birthday would, on the face of it, be an ideal time for the second marriage to take place. As the birthday approached, Lloyd George’s long-suffering Principal Private Secretary, A. J. Sylvester, found himself bombarded by requests from insistent journalists and reporters that the old man should at least grant them a brief interview to mark the auspicious occasion. Arrangements were also well advanced for a private family party to be held at Bron-y-de to celebrate the birthday. But personal problems abounded. Both of Lloyd George’s daughters, Lady Olwen Carey-Evans (b. 1892) and Miss Megan Lloyd George (b. 1902), had adamantly refused to set foot inside Bron-y-de should Frances Stevenson also be present, and showed little inclination to back down as the date of the birthday now fast approached.
Alfred Thomas (1840–1927) is a curiously neglected figure in the history of late nineteenth century Wales. This is in spite of the fact that he left voluminous personal papers (most of which are now housed in the Glamorgan Record Office), and was a regular correspondent of a number of prominent politicians. There are a number of reasons for this; firstly, his name is similar to that of David Alfred Thomas, latterly Lord Rhondda, a more significant figure given his personal conflicts with Lloyd George and organised labour. Indeed, two recent authors have confused the two men in writing about the period.1 Alfred Thomas’ long life has also contributed to this neglect; by the time Thomas died in 1927, the Golden Age of Welsh Liberalism was past, and the Nonconformity to which he devoted much of his life had begun its long decline. He never married, and so left no children to perpetuate his memory, as D. A. Thomas and Lloyd George did. Lastly, one cannot avoid the impression that Alfred Thomas, a life-long bachelor, an evangelical Baptist, teetotal, vegetarian,2 given to writing hymn tunes in his spare time, has simply failed to excite the interest of modern historians.
Although Thomas may be regarded as less personally exciting than Lloyd George, his career tells us more about Welsh politics and Liberalism in the years between 1885 and 1910, being in many ways a more representative figure than ‘the Welsh Wizard’. As such, a study of his career is long overdue. A social leader in his native Cardiff, his political career culminated in the chairmanship of the Welsh Parliamentary Liberal Party from 1898 to 1910. During this time, Alfred Thomas had not only to grapple with the divisions of the Liberal Party during its wilderness years after the 1895 Conservative landslide, but the years after the Liberal landslide of 1906; an equally challenging period for Welsh Liberalism.
As they were sitting there they heard a tumultuous noise, and with the intensity of the noise there fell a blanket of mist so that they could not see each other. And after the mist, everywhere became bright. When they looked to where they had once seen the flocks and herds and dwelling-places, they could now see nothing at all, neither building nor beast, neither smoke nor fire, neither man nor dwelling- place, only the court buildings empty, desolate, uninhabited, without people, without animals in them; their own companions had disappeared, with nothing known of their whereabouts – only the four of them remained.1
With these words the storyteller introduces the matter of the Manawydan tale. This ‘enchantment’ is the catastrophe Manawydan and his companions have to deal with. In this article, I will argue that the author has drawn the enchantment from a real event, and, as the tale unfolds, draws on a historical narrative and identifiable characters from Deheubarth (south Wales) in the first half of the twelfth century. Though the tale is not a history nor even historical fiction, I want to suggest that its author has drawn the central event and its outcome from the aftermath of the insurgence of land-grabbing Norman armies into his beloved Dyfed in this period. This paper does not seek to explain the whole tale in historical terms, only that of the struggle of the two main protagonists, Manawydan and the enchanter.
In this year of grace 1901 Wales is one of the brightest and most truly civilized spots in the Queen’s dominions…. With the black mineral pouring into the lap of Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Llanelli, where the argosies of the nations await its arrival to con- vey it to the remotest parts of the earth (with) the transformation of the Rhondda valley from a sleepy hollow, into the most active and thriving community in Great Britain and the world.1
In asserting that the early modern Welsh diaspora is ‘a huge and fascinating subject’, Professor Sir Glanmor Williams noted in particular that ‘the outflux of men and women of humbler origin [from Wales to England and beyond] is more significant in terms of numbers involved than the most dazzling of Welsh luminaries’.1
This theme was explored at the Colwyn Bay Eisteddfod in 1947, in Robert Owen’s prize-winning essay entitled Migration from Wales to London and the History of the Welsh in London up to 1815. Available only in Welsh, it has been described as ‘a huge source to be quarried, full of raw material about important facets of life in the capital city.’2 Owen estimated that approximately one per cent of the population of mid-Tudor London was Welsh, but he did not locate the home parish of the ‘middling sort’ who were his subjects. Thus we do not know where in Wales their London journey began. In his more recent work on the topic, W. P. Griffith also did not examine the regional origins of his selection of London’s Welsh population, but he estimated that, by 1541, 2.4 per cent of the city’s inhabitants were Welsh.3 We have frustratingly little knowledge about them because of the paucity of primary sources concerning ‘the middling sort’ that remain to us. Not being owners of large Welsh estates, they left behind no papers for the assiduous archivist to investigate. Fortunately, information about the lives that a small number of the successful Welsh ‘middling sort’ led in the English capital can be obtained from family wills and, in some cases, early Chancery proceedings for the Tudor period. These documents can also add detail to our understanding of migrants’ relationships with their kinsmen back in Wales.
William Emrys Williams (1896–1977), the writer, educator, arts administrator and publisher, was a human powerhouse in the field of cultural transmission. Notions of Welshness reverberated in the epicentre of British cultural life in the middle of the twentieth century; Williams emphasized his links with Wales, and others who knew him treated his Welshness as a factor in the way they constructed his identity. This essay takes as its focus a scholarly biography of Williams by Sander Meredeen, whose comprehensive treatment of Williams’s life includes his Welshness as a significant strand.2
Life-writing about cultural figures within Wales has frequently carried national resonances, supported by recognisable literary tropes. Readers of articles in the Anglo-Welsh Review often encountered attributions of remote birth-places, with fervent national sentiment around links to humble origins in rural Wales. The role of early education in encouraging self-expression is often emphasized, together with formative affiliations to Welsh non-conformity.3 It will be seen that these characteristic formations recur in relation to Williams. They are exploited positively by Williams and his friends – but they are also interpreted negatively by his critics. At a time when numbers of Welshmen figured at the heart of the British cultural establishment, Welshness could become a two-edged sword.