Gareth Jones

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The Western Mail 13th September, 1933



Carrying On a Century-old Tradition in a Hill-side Farm


 What is the national dish of Wales?  It would be difficult to find a rival to the ham and eggs served in the countryside, and of all the dishes of ham and eggs offered me the tastiest was at Cwmgorse, Gwaun-cae-Gurwen.

It had a richness of flavour which is all the more appreciated when it is eaten in the open-air after tramping.  Perhaps the air of optimism and of work reigning in the anthracite areas, which contrasts strikingly with the pessimism prevailing more towards the east of Wales, adds zest and appetite.

I certainly found Gwaun-cae-Gurwen and the surroundings a bright patch.

There was a spirit of friendliness about the district, although the winters there must be bleak and sullen, and the mountains to the north are bare and lonely. Everyone gave a greeting which was warm and spontaneous.

As I was passing the East Gwaun-cae-Gurwen Colliery several men waved, and we talked in Welsh for long.

A Welsh Matador

On a farm near that colliery I came upon a character whom I shall call the “Welsh Matador.”  He was a short, wiry Cardi, with flushed cheeks, who had came to the farm, Bryn Awel, for his health.

He told me calmly of his fight with a bull upon the mountain.  The animal had come rushing full speed upon him, and instead of fleeing for his life the little man had stood his ground until the beast was almost upon him.  Then with his stick he struck the bull a crashing blow over the eyes, blinding the savage enemy.  He was quite unconcerned at the struggle.

“Were you not terrified?”  I asked.  The Cardi was surprised at my question. “Oh, I’m quite used to it in Cardiganshire,” he answered. 

Leaving the matador to his work in the fields, I went on to a little town which delighted me - Cwmllynfell.  It was so thoroughly Welsh and so thoroughly alive.  The children played on the heath in Welsh and shouted greetings to strangers.

It was here that I was for the first time in my life taken prisoner by bandits and ransomed.  They were Welsh bandits, varying in age from seven to thirteen years, who seized me and took me to their tent.  I have no complaints to make about my treatment by these outlaws and they speedily released me from my captivity when a supply of chocolate was forthcoming as ransom.

Overflowing With Music

Cwmllynfell seemed to me to be brimming over with music-lovers.  The first person I met was a proud member of the Ystalyfera Choir, which has won so often at the National Eisteddfod.  In shop-windows there were printed notices about rehearsals.

No sooner had I begun to sup at the Mountain Hare than a torrent of brass instruments flooded the inn and I listened to cornets and trombones vying with each other in a Niagara of melody.

The tuning in was like an attack on the Western Front, but once they began to play order resolved itself out of chaos.

Nor was that an end to the flow of music at Cwmllynfell, for as I passed the school a stream of song issued from the windows and I stood listening to the “Ash Grove.”  So attractive was the music that I had to drag myself away, passing the memorial to Watcyn Wyn and the fine new building which is being erected in the middle of the town.

A Cockfighting Story

I saw nothing of the cockfighting for which Cwmllynfell was once famous, but I heard a story of those wild days.  A cock which had battled often and well and was renowned throughout the neighbourhood for its savage vigour met at last its equal and had an eye scratched out.  His owner, a miner, took it to a town some distance away to sell it.  A prospective buyer came and was going to purchase the bird, when he noticed the blind eye.  “But it’s blind in that eye, man.  I can’t buy that.”

“Blind in that eye, indeed,” replied the owner. “It’s winking at me, he is not to let him go too cheap.”

Night was falling, but I was determined to find shelter in the barn of a farm up in the mountains and leave the industrial district for the countryside.  Moreover, next day a stiff climb up to the top of the Black Mountains, to Llyn y Fan, and down to the Usk Valley awaited me.  I, therefore, tramped along a beautiful gorge, through which flows the tempestuous River Twrch (twrch is the Welsh for boar).

Good-bye to the Mines

I seemed to be saying good-bye to the Wales of the coal-mines and the steelworks and suddenly alighting upon the Wales which has hardly changed.

The last trace of industrialism was the gaunt relic of Henllys Vale Colliery. How out of place it looked with the rocks and the river and the trees all around.  Below. blazed a huge fire of bracken, throwing up great flames.  A derelict locomotive stood near the crumbling chimney of the colliery.  Two elderly colliers emerged from the semi-darkness and greeted me. 

“I want to go to the furthest farm up the valley,” I told them in Welsh.  “Is this the way?

“It is,” they replied, and one of them said dramatically, “But beware of Craig y Fran (the Raven’s Rock) on the way.  The path is narrow there and many have slipped to their death.”

I went on, rather regreting that I had not stayed the night in Cwmllynfell, stepped warily as I went past Craig y Fran, descended to the stream, crossed over to Breconshire - the Twrch is here the boundary between Breconshire and Carmarthenshire - and rejoiced when I saw a light on the hill.  It was Dorwen, the highest farmhouse in the valley.

Farmwife’s Welcome

Would Welsh hospitality be as warm it is vaunted in literature and song?  I wondered as I tapped at the door.  The farmwife, came.

“May I sleep in your barn?”  I asked.  She grinned.  “Sleep in the barn indeed!  You can have a bedroom and you must have a good supper and a nice cup of tea and make yourself quite at home.  ‘Dewch i fewn! Dewch I fewn!”  My heart leapt up; a thin mist was beginning to fail; I could hear children laughing inside and the sound of butter being churned; I could see a blazing fire; but the greatest joy was to realise that hospitality in Wales was as spontaneous and as warm as ever.

My host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. Moses, farmers up in the hills, were carrying on a century-old tradition of doing honour to an unknown guest.

Additional Information from The  Moses' Family

In February 2004, Elaine Edwards, grand-daughter of Mr and Mrs Moses of  Dorwen Farm (above) wrote an email to Gareth's Archives:

"I first heard of your uncle when I was a young child (I am now 40) as my father had in his possession a few short  pieces of correspondence - namely a letter, a postcard, a gift card and also a newspaper cutting confirming his death and a printed thank you card from your family.   My great-grandparents had kept these after a brief acquaintance with your remarkable uncle.  They met in 1933 (September, I think) as they took him and Dr. Wyn Davies in for the night at Dorwen Farm.  I remember hearing of how they had lost their bearings as the fog descended suddenly on the mountain and that they somehow found their way to Dorwen Farm in dangerous conditions (I don't know how accurate that account is). 

It is probable that they never met again but as a child I was intrigued by him - and struck by the fact that he kept in touch with this working-class, hill farming couple whose lives were so very different from his own.   In the postcard from Siam - dated 30th April 1935 - he wrote about going on to China, Japan and America.   Although there are only three brief pieces of writing in all, he comes across as a truly kind and decent man.   

I can remember being aware of his story, wondering at his  tragedy and feeling frustrated that there were no answers about why he had to die.  Years later I read two articles in the Western Mail and his articles in "In Search of News" and realised how remarkable his short life had been.   I thought a great deal about the way two very different families experienced the loss of a grown up child (Maggie, my father's mother died of TB at 28, in 1934) and when your family heard of your great loss my great grandparents were grieving for their daughter. 

I started to write about my family a few years ago and found that I couldn't write about Maggie's death. my great-grandparents and Dorwen Farm without also thinking about Gareth Jones.  It was strange."

To view Gareth's postcards and correspondence with Mr & Mrs Moses, then please click HERE.

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