Driving in our Forbears’ Footsteps.

I got lost in Swansea this week. I turned for “Swansea East’ and landed in Skewen and while I hadn’t intended to visit Heol Las, that’s what I ended up doing. I’ve been knee deep in ancestors for a few weeks as I traced, retraced the family tree lost in Welsh, Irish and Scottish versions of naming patterns mimicking those in Wuthering Heights. My plan had been to take a road trip: Llanon, Llandysul, Defynog, Ayr, Belfast,Dublin, Harland and Wolff archives, East India Dock Milwall, Westferry Road Millwall, Templeton factory Glasgow. However the family tree is now so vast I have to target my next efforts –  always assuming I can locate where registers are held.

Skewen and Birchgrove were still the same, narrow and winding with cars parked on pavements and roads. I did a road trip on Google searching for my grandparents house. As luck would have it a van was obstructing the road and I was able to get a good look at the house although it no longer had its name plate. There was brief nod to 436, and a wave to the relatives as I whizzed past the cemetery. I can always take flowers next time.

But it was a lovely drive past places where my family had settled: Llansamlet church, Ainon, Heol Las Farm, Arosfa and Ty Cae’r Gof. Thus some four hours later and some miles south of Brecon, I took a five mile detour to Defynog – a hamlet nestling between the A40 and A470 and south of Sennybridge. A yew tree grows in the churchyard that my great great great great grandparents would have known, though I suspect as nonconformists they would not have set foot in the white church with its square tower.

Indeed a few days later and I’m grateful to David Pyke’s excellent research on the 1808 revival which is detailed here http://daibach-welldigger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/lewis-powell-and-1808-cwm-senni-revival.html?view=timesmlide

A christian researcher, he details the history of the chapels of ease, traces the connections of freisndhips between diferent denominations. More importantly for me, there is an image of the chapel where, my ancestors were baptised – a methodist calvinist chapel.

As is usual for me, christian names are a hook…. I wonder what they did from day to day, how they survived, what their homes were like. People like Jennett – an unusual name now –  yet a wide search on history websites shows that it was a popular name in that area of Breconshire.  They were obviously hardy people, able to withstand the poverty and hardships of the time until poor harvests rising rents forced them away from a rural way of life, forty miles west along the A40 to industrial Swansea, where they beacme miners, hewers carpenters and copper workers / spelters. Jennet My ancestors would have known the Welsh Not, it was used in the church school at the time ,and with their native language being symbollically choked from them, and driven off the land by absentee landowners: a cinversion of forces beyond their control.

The thing about Defynnog is that it is a green and quiet place  a Cordell country before the ravages. The pull is a physical one: I wanted to stop and look for long -gone street names and houses, wander in chapels where weddings and baptisms happened along the Senny Road. The area felt familiar; partly because as a child dad and I picnicked there once or twice, but I have always loved the Becons. I was lucky to see Penyfan from an aeroplane as I flew south and driving past ,it always feels like the guardian of the Beacons. Some places have that effect on me. They’re eternal.

One other strange thing happened to me while in the south. I was getting off a train in Neath. There  was a much older man to my left and as I looked I got a physical jolt and I almost called out my uncle John’s name. Grey white black hair, almond-shaped, deep-brown, eyes and moustache square jawed and a bit jowly. Aside from the extra height and weight it could have been dad,I thought it was John., both long dead. The man and I looked at each other in a kind of recognition,  and an unspoken question then walked in separate directions.



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