Roots – North Wales

A while back, I felt a strong urge to trace my roots, particularly those of my maternal grandfather. I spent quite a bit of time with him during half term holidays from boarding school. It was quite a contrast to leave a posh English prep school and head to a terraced house in the Rhondda. He was partially crippled having lost his heel in a mining accident to a conveyor belt. He walked with a stick and a pronounced limp. I now share a limp, but I can get by without a stick. We used to sit on park benches and stare across the valley. He was pretty proud when as a young man I joined him in the Colliers Arms and sank four pints in a very short time. “Thirst like a dredger!”

The trail of detective work ends with a welsh speaking washerwoman from Beddgelert who had a son Edward. Initially he was down on the census with the same surname. But subsequently changed his name, perhaps his father acknowledged his bastard. I have always felt a strong draw to this particular village and whenever I have felt low in energy I have gone there to recharge. I have looked around the graveyards in Beddgelert to try to find the graves. Finding a Jones in Wales is easy, finding the correct one, non-trivial. I will “go” there one more time when I leave the form and before passing from this plane.

A number of my relatives worked in the nearby Sygun copper mine, later the slate mines at Blaenau, then the coal mines in the Rhondda. I joke that my body is built for two things, mining and/or judo or wrestling. I have seen the cottages where they used to live next to a river and can imagine my washerwoman ancestor washing things in the stream. There is a wash house near here at Palacret, the wash house is on Le Jaudy which flows through our garden. I too live next a river.

In a sense perhaps I have come full circle.

Even as long ago as 1911 people were still bilingual in the valleys, perhaps before the Welsh Knot was enforced so as to eradicate much of the language.

I only lived in Wales for the first two years. My father a metallurgist, then went Bristol, Australia, Zambia, North Kent. I had to follow. So, I am an itinerant Welshman, of which there are many. I met one in Carrefour the day of a rugby international. There is nothing quite like a red WRU jersey to attract them.

Not sure why I am “here” today, perhaps that will become clearer later on.