History

St Denys Church, York – A History

York is a city resplendent with historical features, a destination regularly lauded for the heritage it possesses in unparalleled abundance. Particularly prominent throughout the city are sites of medieval provenance; York Minster, Barley Hall and the Merchant Adventurers Hall spring to mind. The rich and varied ecclesiastical history of York is still evident in the many churches that still litter the city centre. Although not as grand or as renowned as the Minster, each parish church has its own intriguing history waiting to be discovered. St Denys Church in Walmgate is one of these.

Located on an important thoroughfare between Walmgate Bar, an historic gateway to York, and the city centre, it is little surprise to note that this site has seen evidence of human use since the time of the Romans. Excavations in 1846 unearthed an altar dedicated to the Roman God Arciaco, thought to have been erected on the site by the Roman Centurion Maternius Vitalis. Furthermore additional excavations have revealed that some of the earliest foundations appear to be of Roman origin, subsequently built upon by later settlers.

The first Christian church built on this site was probably before the Norman Conquest, owing to two Anglo-Danish gravestones uncovered in the churchyard. These stones have been dated to the 10th or 11th century and are now housed in the Yorkshire Museum, remnants of the period before the Normans secured the north. It is certain that a Norman church was erected on the site before 1154, just under a century after the Norman invasion.

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It is possible it was at this juncture the site was dedicated to St Denys, alternatively known as Dennis or Dionysius. Denys was renowned as not only the patron saint of Paris but also of France, a Christian missionary who was beheaded by the Romans in 258AD. The location of his execution became known as Montmartre, or Martyr’s Hill, in present day Paris. It was said after his killing that his body miraculously arose from the dead and walked around, carrying his bloody severed head in his arms whilst preaching a sermon of repentance. The large gothic abbey the Basilica of Saint Denis church was erected upon the site of his alleged burial.

The church that remains standing today mainly dates from the 13th-15th centuries, with some earlier surviving features and some later embellishments. A prominent feature is the doorway which is a surviving part of the Norman church. This section of the Norman church was originally positioned in the nave, but was relocated to its present position during renovations in 1798. The doorway is typically arched and contains five semi-circular tiers adorned with various carvings, including those of raven heads and foliage.

The North Aisle was remodelled in around 1340, and is a section of the church that contains a significant amount of 14th century stained glass. The aisle was used as the personal chapel of the locally prominent Percy family, aristocrats who would rise to become Earls of Northumberland and play a major role in the governance of medieval England. The Percys owned a mansion close to the church and as such offered their patronage to their local holy building. It is in this aisle that lies the bodies of Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland, and his brother Richard, who were killed fighting for the House of Lancaster at the Battle of Towton in 1461. The brothers found themselves on the losing side in England’s bloodiest battle, a key clash in the Wars of the Roses, and were buried in an unmarked vault in St Denys. The blocked up doorway in the North Aisle has been suggested as a private entrance the Percys may have used from their nearby mansion. Presently situated within the North Aisle is a 15th century font along with an Elizabethan iron-bound wooden chest.

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The stained glass which exists in this aisle is to be noted as some of the oldest in York, particularly the two circular medallions in the first window, said to date from the 13th century. The window next to it contains an image of St John the Baptist and is 14th century. The middle window is also 14th century and contains images of the Crucifixion, St Margaret slaying the dragon and the Virgin and Child. Three kneeling figures evident in this window are those of the donor Robert de Skelton, his wife Joan and their son John. Another window depicts St Thomas and the risen Christ.

The South Aisle meanwhile was built during the 15th century, specifically from 1416-1460 and is known as the Chapel of St Catherine. Located above the arches high above the South Aisle and the Nave are four carvings of 12th century origin, reclaimed from the original Norman church much like the doorway. The Nave roof is also adorned with various painted shields of prominent Yorkshire noble families; featured are the Percy blue lion on gold, the diagonal gold stripes of the Scropes and the catching silver St Andrew’s cross of the Nevilles.

The large East Window is also 15th century and originally depicted a Jesus tree, highlighting his ancestry. Today the window is filled with a mosaic of original glass fragments. The altar, often the centre of attention in the church, is positioned infront of a large window dating from 1452-55. The window originally contained figures of the Percy family who were in the ascendancy during the period. Surviving panels depict St Leonard, the Virgin Mary, a scene of the crucifixion and saints Denys and John. A local religious connection was completed with the image of St William of York kneeling before the pope. This section of the church is further decorated with elaborate early Victorian tile work directly behind the altar.

The church’s unusual shape has emerged due to a series of incidents throughout its history. Indeed only the East End of the original church still remains. The central tower of the church originally possessed a large spire and stood a towering 116ft high, noticeable to the populace throughout the parish and beyond. The tower was damaged by cannon fire during the 1644 Civil War Siege whilst the spire was devastatingly struck by lightning in 1700. The damage was irreparable and the tower was eventually pulled down between 1846 and 1887, replaced by the tower that currently still stands. Furthermore the west wall collapsed in 1797 when workmen undertook digging work that was too close to the wall’s foundations. The church that has emerged from this series of mishaps is one of York’s most atmospheric holy sites, a hidden gem often overlooked by visitors to the city.

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History of Welsh Flags

As a nation with a long and storied past it is no surprise to discover that Wales has a myriad of flags, symbols and banners that represent the Country itself. Some are famous, some are forgotten and some are obscure yet all have intriguing origins and meanings. Today both Welsh people and those from other climes are all greatly aware of the national flag of Wales, “Y Ddraig Coch” (The Red Dragon). Yet what my experiences teach me is that very few are aware of the history of the flag or even the alternative Welsh flags we have flown throughout the history of our nation.  With this in mind I have decided to provide you all with a rundown of the differing flags which at one time or another been raised in tribute to our small country in the hope of educating our future generations. After all to some flags are mere material, yet to others they are the embodiment of national identity and pride and are thus an important part of our history.

Y Ddraig Coch

When discussing flags of Wales, one must start with the most recognisable and famous banner the country possesses, “Y Ddraig Coch”. To many people, including the average Welshman, this is the only flag the nation has and many will be surprised to learn just how recent official recognition of a seemingly ageless flag was. Accepted as an official flag by the British Government only in 1959, the flag consists of a passant Red Dragon on a Green and White background, often considered a field. Although only just over 60years old, the flag and its significance has been felt by the Welsh people for centuries. The Red Dragon itself was thought to have been brought to these lands by the Romans but it’s first clear connection to Wales came with its involvement in the mysterious Welsh prophecies. Allegedly the Wizard Myrddin (commonly known as Merlin) told a story of an underground duel between a White Dragon and a Red one, the white beast representing the invading Saxon warriors whom were attempting to suppress the native Welsh people. Merlin allegedly prophesised that the White Dragon would dominate at first but would eventually succumb as the Red Dragon and thus the Welsh people would rise up and vanquish their enemy. This link between Merlin and the Red Dragon was further lend credence if not actual historical fact by the association of the Red Dragon as a flag symbol with the mythical Arthur, King of the Britons. What is not shrouded in historical cynicism is that the banner was definitely used by the Gwynedd King, Cadwaladr, whom has a reputation as one of the greatest Welsh leaders of the era.

With the symbol confirmed as a representation of the Welsh people it became further entrenched in the consciousness of a people when first Owain Glyndwr raised the so-called “Red Dragon of Cadwaladr” during his revolt against English rule and then his distant kinsman Henry Tudor won the English throne at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry was a Welshman whom invaded England via a Welsh-landing from France and had almost uncontested support from his people in his quest to conquer the English throne and end the dynastic Wars of the Roses. Henry had combined his Tudor livery colours of Green and White with the Red Dragon of Arthur, Merlin, Cadwaladr and Owain Glyndwr to create an iconic image and it was this banner which was carried triumphantly into St Paul’s Cathedral on Henry’s march through London. Even so, it remained half a millennia longer before the flag received official patronage from the British Government amidst pressure from Welsh nationalist groups. In 1959 one of the world’s most loved flags came into official existence and has since then been seen in possibly every part of the world as patriotic Welshmen always ensure they pack their flag with their luggage on their travels, never a group of people to pass up the opportunity to show off “Y Ddraig Coch”. Whether it is Rugby, Music or Politics, the Welsh flag is without doubt the most potent symbol of Welshness and national pride and is often viewed in every place possible. A visit to any shop in the country will unleash a torrent of products enshrined in the Red Dragon, from food goods to magnets and from teddy bears to clothes. For a nation so small, Y Ddraig Coch is a flag of enormous appeal and affection and held in high esteem by Welshman and outsider alike. As the only officially recognised flag to be flown from Governmental buildings within the country, it is without doubt the most widely seen flag representing the people of Wales.

The Flag of Saint David

England has the flag of St George whilst Scotland is proudly represented by the saltire of St Andrew, both of which are immediately recognisable around the globe as representative of the countries which use them. Together with the more obscure cross of St Patrick which represents Ireland the three flags make up the iconic yet controversial Union Jack flag. Therefore one could reasonably expect the national flag of Wales to be of the respective national saint, David, in keeping with local consistency. Yet the St David’s cross is a banner that has suffered from a lack of familiarity with those whom inhabit the country of David, let alone recognisable to those further afield. Aesthetically the flag constitutes a simple yet effective design of a yellow/gold cross on a black background, enabling it to stand out and be more effective than the dull-by-comparison St George’s cross. The flag itself has cropped up in a few public places in recent times as Welsh nationalism and national pride grows with each passing generation, eager to stamp their own identity on a crumbling British union. The flag has played a prominent part in marches and parades celebrating St David’s day every 1st March and was even featured temporarily as part of the club badge of Cardiff City Football Club in an overt display of their Welshness in an English-dominated scene. The St David’s cross was also used as the basis for two recent Rugby shirts that has probably increased awareness of the flag more than any other concerted campaign ever could. In 2008 the WRU released a Golden away jersey for the national Rugby team that featured the Flag imprinted on each arm together with a press release explaining how the shirt was inspired from the flag of St David. The other instance where the flag was used in sport was when Rugby League’s first Welsh franchise Crusaders RLFC used the entire flag as the basis for its first kit to again overtly display their heritage in a previously-English environment.

For a flag  that is now arguably unrivalled as Wales’ second (unofficial) flag, the history is sketchy at best. The fledgling Church in Wales, of which the diocese of St David’s is an integral part, disestablished itself from the larger Church of England in 1920 and it seems that the flag was consequently flown atop Anglican churches in Wales to display their affiliation. Throughout the diocese’s under control of the Church of England the St George’s cross was readily flown above the constituent churches and around 1939 it seems that a flag was created from the historic St David armorial arms of a yellow cross on a black background…but reversed. Whilst the usage of the black cross on a yellow background as a flag seems to be solely used from 1939 to 1954 atop Church in Wales, the colours of yellow and black have always traditionally been linked with the Saint as highlighted by the aforementioned Armorial arms which still represent the diocese in the area. St David was devout Christian whom lived well and taught the new ways of Christianity to the pagan tribes of Wales from his monastery on the banks of the modern city which takes his name. As a famous and well-loved figure from Welsh history, indeed the only patron saint of the nation, the flag has in itself also taken on connotations of Welsh nationalism as briefly explored earlier and its visibility continues to grow throughout Wales.

The Church of Wales flag

Similar in meaning and source if not in design to the banner of St David, the Church of Wales flag is the official emblem in usage in Wales to differentiate the organisation from their neighbourly Church of England. Stylistically the flag consists of a Gold Celtic cross nestled on a blue cross and a white background. The flag was inaugurated in 1954 and was created to specifically replace the reversed St David’s flag mentioned above to represent the Church of Wales within their remit. Unlike the previous two this flag is arguably unknown amongst the vast majority of Welsh natives, especially in these days of low Church attendance. Theologically, the Church in Wales is part of  the Anglican communion in Wales although in sharp contrast to its larger and dominating neighbour the Church of England it has retained an admirable disestablished stance since 1920. With a strong tradition of non-Conformist Christianity throughout Wales there was always a sense of Conflict towards the Church of England itself from the Welsh whom in particular felt marginalised and oppressed by Church policies.  The Welsh church act of 1914 was thus passed amid controversy and the Church in Wales was legally separated from the Church of England which it remains to this day, the Welsh church being disestablished from the state whilst the Church of England remains inextricably linked. Today this flag is often found atop of Church in Wales properties although even then it competes with the local diocese flags, again resulting in lower recognition of a dazzling banner.

Glyndwr/Aberffraw Flag

Owain Glyndwr. Patriot. Hero. Freedom Fighter. Welshman. Every native Cymro is aware of the name Owain Glyndwr as he was the romantic hero who stood up in the face of oppression and took the fight back to the English whom had conquered and subdued the nation of Wales a century prior. Glyndwr had raised a rebellion in 1400 and within four years had crowned himself Prince of Wales and the inheritor of the defunct Welsh royal family. The royal kingdom’s of Wales prior to being rendered extinct under the might of the English crown had been a fractured bunch, varying Kingdoms rising to power for an intermittent period before being replaced or usurped by another. What helped Glyndwr win the loyalty of his men and to validate his claim to the throne was that he was descended from three of the main royal families and was thus the apparent personification of a true Welsh prince. The flag today widely known as the Glyndwr banner was in fact derived from the hereditary flag of the previous princes of Wales although Glyndwr’s version had one clear and aggressive difference. The flag of the native princes from the powerful Gwynedd-based House of Aberfraw consisted of four passant lions on a quartered red and gold background. One prominent user of the flag was Llewelyn the Great whom in 1216 was lauded as the Prince of Wales after gaining acceptance and homage from his rival rulers. The flag in itself had been utilised by the kinsmen of Llewelyn’s from at least the 11th century and was in all probability considered an official flag of Welsh royalty. The importance of this flag is such that after Edward I of England conquered the nation in 1282 and  instilled his own eldest Caernarfon-born son as the Prince of Wales it was this flag that became the de-facto representative banner of these foreign Princes of Wales. Since 1911 this flag has again been utilised by the foreign Princes of Wales as their Coat of Arms before they succeed to the Crown of England. Prince Charles in the 1960’s began to use the Aberfraw banner with his heraldic coronet placed directly onto the middle of the flag as his representative banner and in 2008 the flag itself holds a prominent role in the official Royal Badge of Wales.

Perhaps because of its usurpation by the Royal Family of England as their own symbol of claim on the Welsh Kingdom, it is the aforementioned version of Glyndwr’s banner that has subsequently become a potent symbol of Welsh nationalism amidst Independence-related insignia. As mentioned above the Glyndwr flag has one major difference to the Aberfraw flag and that is that as opposed to being passant, the four lions are on their hind feet in an aggressive rampant pose. Although the real reasons for this are no longer evident, many experts in Heraldry point out that as per Glyndwr’s triple ancestry the rampant lions are evident in the respective arms of both his mother and father’s princely ancestors and combined with the colours and style of the Aberfraw flag create an ultimate Welsh flag. As a result of Glyndwr’s patronage of this flag in the last two decades it has increased in usage across the nation by proponents of a free Wales and can be seen in a myriad of places, arguably now the second most popular flag of the country and growing. Most Welsh sporting events will have a smattering of Glyndwr flags amongst the fans whilst such organisations as the Urdd Eisteddfod and Town Halls have been known to fly the flag particular around 16th September, a date put forward by Welsh nationalists as a candidate for Glyndwr day. As political symbol’s go, the message behind the Glyndwr banner is a clear one. An independent Wales.

Golden Dragon

Whilst the above flag of Glyndwr’s has become widespread in modern times, it was the Golden Dragon that Glyndwr famously raised in his battles against the English armies. Near Caernarfon on 2nd November 1401 Glyndwr’s forces were positioned on Tut Hill when Glyndwr raised up the legendary Golden Dragon flag in defiance of English rule, best encapsulated by the domineering fortified Castle which lay before them. The Flag itself was essentially as its name suggests, a Golden Dragon in a rampant pose which in Welsh was referred to as Baner Y Ddraig Aur. Although obscure by today’s standards and only known by fervent nationalists with an active interest in history, this would have been considered Glyndwr’s premier flag at the start of his rebellion and certainly carried a plethora of overt symbolism. A previous Prince of Gwynedd whom Glyndwr was seeking to replicate in his actions was Owain Gwynedd whom was associated by Welsh bards with Golden Dragons and although a reputable link by Glyndwr it was from a different kind of Leader that Glyndwr was seeking to really exploit. Since the turn on the 11th Century the legends of the Ancient Briton King Arthur were never far from Heraldic poetry within Wales as the bards prophesised about a new leader to take up Arthur’s mantle and banish the invaders from the lands of the Britons. In the intervening period the Britons had become identified as the Welsh whilst the Saxon’s and Normans were gradually melting into an English race. The Welsh people often fantasised about the Mabdarogan or Son of Prophecy who would fulfil the bards predictions and free the people. It was no surprise for Glyndwr, scion of three Royal Families, to find himself cast in this role and much like his later distant kinsman Henry Tudor embraced this development by encouraging the link. The Golden Dragon was the standard that was linked to the ancient Briton warrior Uther Pendragon whom would be better remembered in history as the father of Arthur. In the early Welsh language the translation of Dragon was (and in fact still is) “Draig”, and this was a word that was considered to mean a Warrior. With the epithet “Pen” meaning Chief or Great often added to Ddraig to suggest a great or chiefly Warrior the status of Uther Pendragon is in little doubt. Thus a banner that displayed both Glyndwr’s heritage, prophecy and hopes found itself immortalised in the guise of a Golden Dragon.

Welsh Republican Tricolour

A flag in which not only is its design but also its intended meaning illustrated in the accepted name of the flag, the Welsh Republican Tricolour is a minor flag that has caught on with a subsector Welsh Nationalists whom wish to display their antipathy towards the English Monarchy through Republican motives. With legitimate native Princes extinct with the downfall of Llewelyn the Last in 1282 and Glyndwr’s mysterious disappearance at the start of the 15th century, Wales herself doesn’t have a realistic pretender to a Welsh throne and therein lies the dilemma for modern nationalists. Should the nation gain independence the new, forward-thinking entity it will become will surely not revert to a form of State-ship that has long been considered outdated. Welsh republicanism therefore has a credible basis from which it has slowly began to grow and has been further emboldened by ancient Celtic ties to Ireland where of course Republicanism has been a core concept throughout the 20th century. Based on the Irish and French designs, the Welsh tricolour is a simple design using the already-established national colours of Green, Red and White and sometimes appears with a Socialist/Communist star on the white section to display further political motives. The star has also been stated to denote a memorandum to all those patriots that have died for Wales. The flag itself was used by the Welsh Republican Movement that seceded from the mainstream Plaid Cymru in 1949 in an internal dispute over policy. The Republicans believe that more should have been done with regards to Socialism within the nation as opposed to rural affairs and the Welsh language and aimed to become a major party. Although fervent in its ideals the party failed to catch the support of the general public and faded from national consciousness in the 1960’s although the flag they conceived continues to be occasionally spotted, in particular in the new modern world of the Internet and in that arena of nationalism, the sporting event.

Yr Eryr Wen

The “Eryr Wen” flag was a flag that first came to prominence in the 1960’s with the rise of violent nationalism in Wales through the advent of the Free Wales Army. Translating as the White Eagle, the dramatic flag consists of a stylised and simple design purporting to the be the White Eagle on a ominous black background. The flag’s connotations were subtle and therein lay the attractiveness of the flag. The black background was used to put the full focus on the white eagle design which was said to carry two meanings. The aforementioned Owain Gwynedd, as well as being linked to Golden Dragon’s by the bards, was attributed a coat of arms that consisted of three eagles whom were displayed with their wings spread wide on a green background. Owain I of Wales is considered by historians and nationalists alike as one of the greatest Welsh princes and his wars with the English King Henry II are still fondly remembered by Wales’ patriots and no doubt the corrupting of his coat of arms into a modern white stylised design was a way for the members of the Free Wales Army to display their objectives. The FWA were created by Julian Cayo-Evans in 1963 and were created to raise awareness of the fight for Welsh republicanism, their lust for self-promotion gaining them much publicity in an era of Celtic reawakening. The flag began to be prominently displayed by the followers of the FWA and was used and is still used by those of a Nationalist mentality to display their political viewpoint and is instantly recognisable to other comrade’s of a similar outlook. Whilst the FWA themselves were rendered extinct with a plethora of arrests and convictions in the late 60’s the flag is still seen by other individuals purporting to be taking up the mantle of Welsh resistance to Colonial British rule and as well as flags can be seen on badges and graffiti occasionally in rural Wales.

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A Miner’s Story; My Grandfather

Wales is a country with a rich tradition of song and rugby, a welcoming and open country where they keep the proverbial and cliched “welcome in the hillside” for all whom enter God’s Country. A small nation with self-deprecating humour and a knack for producing talented Number 10’s on the rugby field, a nation with a penchant for helping each other in the spirit of community. What is hidden from the world however tends to be its tragic past, a history of disaster and exasperating pain irrevocably linked to the industry of mining.

Choirs, Rugby and Mines. The weekday Miners whom played rugby on Saturday’s and sang in Church on Sundays. The traditional stereotypical  and nostalgic view of Wales, a Wales that many may hanker for yet not necessarily a happy Wales. Mining was and is one of the most dangerous professions around and many a Miner has perished deep underground in the process of putting a mere meal on the family table. The arduous task that Miners faced has been unfortunately thrust back into national consciousness long after we thought those days were finished with the sudden and sad demise of the four Swansea Valley Miners in September 2011.

Garry Jenkins, Phillip Hill, David Powell and Charles Breslin were all tragically killed in the Gleision Colliery near Pontardawe in an event that has caused the South Welsh community to reflect on their own personal connections to such a traumatic history in the industry. It is believed that the four became trapped after the mine they were in was breached with water and blocking their route out. With it being 2011 and me myself being the 2nd Generation not involved in the mining industry on a mass scale, many were not expecting to find themselves embroiled in such a hopeless scenario where we all willed our local miners to survive against bleak odds. The waiting, the crying, the hoping, the praying, the denial and the grieving. This is something that happened to our Grandparents and Great-grandparents, not us we all thought collectively. Indeed, the only personal involvement I have is a school trip to the dreary and scary Big Pit museum when I was a child. With that in mind, it has compelled me once and for all to go beyond the mere “family of Miners” description to actually find out what life really was like for these men and what exactly their jobs entailed. After all, its a family history, The dangers; the laughs; the environment, the pain.

Mining first became prevalent during the 18th century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and with advances in the production of machinery, the coalfields of South Wales began to have its coal extracted. This would only escalate as the rail network continued to be expanded, allowing the coal to be exported to all reaches of the British Empire and becoming an invaluable source of income to the rich. It was not known as the Black Gold for nothing and was responsible in part for making the 3rd Marquis of Bute the 3rd Richest Man in the Victorian World, with his base of Cardiff becoming the largest coal exporting port in the world. By 1920 there were 271,000 Welsh men working underground for rather meagre wages and in terrible conditions. Coal production and profit was the only concern of the mine owners as opposed to the hazardous conditions of those whom toiled away to create the wealth of the few at the top of society. If a miner died, there was a constant supply of others ready to take their place. Nearly every town and even village had its own underground colliery in the South Wales valleys and the mines were the obvious and in many cases only way to feed the family. By the Miners Strike of 1984 the industry was on its last legs and was all but finished, only a few Collieries remaining open such as the aforementioned tragic Gleision Colliery which was a small drift mine as opposed to the deep mines of earlier years.

Disaster wise, between 1851 and 1920 there were over 3,000 deaths down the mines over 48 individual events including the infamous 1913 explosion at the Senghenydd Colliery that claimed 439 lives and thus became the worst mining accident in British history. Equally, 45 men died at the Six Bells, Abertillery Colliery in 1960 and five years later 31 men died at the Cambrian Colliery. Perhaps the most famous and heart-wrenching disaster was the Aberfan incident on 21st October 1966. In actions that would ultimately prove catastrophic in its consequences, for 50 years prior to the disaster the deposits of mining debris from the Merthyr Vale Colliery were piled up on the side of the nearby Mynydd Merthyr. Ominously this mountain is directly above the small village of Aberfan which rests at the foot of its eastern face. Despite repeated warnings to the National Coal Board of the risks posed by such an artificial heap so close to a settlement being dismissed out of arrogant ignorance, the inevitable was destined to happen. Just after 9am on the Friday morning, moments after returning to their classes fresh from assembly, the waste tip slide down the mountainside and ploughed through a farm cottage before directly hitting Pantglas Junior School. 20 houses in the village were also engulfed by the slide and once the desperate rescue mission was finished it was discovered that 144 people had died in total, 116 of them Pantglas Schoolchildren.

 

All of these tragic deaths however neglect just how many men passed away not down the mine but because of the mine. Many men whom clawed away below the depths of the surface would suffer major respiratory problems in later life amongst other health issues, the working conditions appalling at best for generations of men. In recent years the consequences of decades working underground has become headline news with various respiratory failings of ill ex-miners becoming increasingly apparent. The coal dust in the tight and enclosed underground spaces has in many cases led to disabilitating conditions and even early death, including conditions such as Pneumoconiosis, Emphysema and Bronchitis. Knowing this, it makes me amazed how men like my grandfather Randall Davies and my great grandfather and namesake David Robert Edwards lived lives that included earning the proverbial bread and butter this way. This also meant that my own mother and auntie’s grew up in an environment where their father was putting his life literally on the line every day to feed them whilst my grandmother experienced the double-edged sword of being the daughter and husband of miners. Their story should be heard, just like every working man who experience such hellish moments.

Up until the conversation with my grandfather to get some insight into his life as a miner my involvement with his former industry as I explored earlier involved a childhood visit to the Big Pit. I vaguely remember two years ago driving in the vicinity of the Colliery-turned-museum and mentioned visiting it to my Grandfather who abruptly retorted “why would I want to visit that for, I spend half my bastard life down the mine!“. Sitting down with my grandfather to discuss his working life, what became evident that despite the bleak and difficult task he faced daily he looks back on that dangerous era with fondness of the camaraderie he shared with fellow miners. Indeed, most of the stories I will be unable to air on such a public forum due to the nature of life as a group of men’s men in the workplace.

Randall Davies left school at 14 years old and with times hard was expected to find gainful employment immediately to help support both himself and his family in the days before things such as benefits became prevalent. After initially wanting to become a fireman but losing interest after 6months, in June 1953 Randall entered the Collier industry by enrolling at the Caeduke Training Centre near Gorseinon. For 16 weeks he alternated between the training centre and Pontardawe Tec where he learned the industry before graduating to his first job at Y Daren drift mine near Trebanos. Around this time 30 men worked on the surface and underground where Randall worked a further 120 men were employed. Staying at the mine for 2 years Randall eventually left to the nearby small Cwmglyd mine by his childhood home of Ynysmeudwy. It was here that Randall recounted a story that brought him to almost tears of joy in remembering an occasion where he and other youthful workmates attempted to break an on-site record. He said “the record of drams being brought up from underground was 8, 8 was considered safe. I was 17 years old and went for 9. The drams ofcourse rolled away and back into the mine and pulled the place apart. Ruined it. The mine was closed for 3months because of the damage!”

With his position naturally untenable, Randall left the colliery and spent 9 months working in the Steelworks in Port Talbot before completing his 2 years National Service in the Armed Forces. After temporarily returning to the same colliery (“they forgave me because they always needed miners“) Randall then moved to London and specifically East Ham and Whitechapel in the East End whilst working for Dagenham Ford factory and the North Thames Gas Board during the height of the Kray twin’s reign. Returning home after 12months, much like other men of his ilk in South Wales there was no other realistic option other than returning down the mine. He spent 2 years working at Cwmgors Colliery and it was here he stated that he became a qualified collier although his time here was more memorable for an accident he suffered during one shift. “This guy I worked with, we used to always come across big rocks and used to throw them out of the way. One time he threw a rock towards me and it hit me on the arm and cut it deeply with a lot of blood. The usual doctor was an alcoholic and refused to come out to the house to treat me so another Doctor, Seth Jones from Brynaman, a good man, came out and stitched me up. He remained my Doctor from then on“. In 1964 Randall moved to the Wernos Colliery near Tycroes and stayed for a year until it closed in ’65. Recounting a memory he said “one time there was a fire. It happened overnight and we were the day shift. When we turned up it was decided that no one could go underground as it was too risky, except the mines rescue. The boss then decided that he wanted 20 miners to go down with the rescuers. I had a friend sitting with me at the table who said to me ‘fuck them, I’m not going it, its too dangerous, they can sack me if they want’. The boss then put everyone’s name into a hat and drew the first name out of the hat and surely enough it was my friend. Fair play to him though because he stood up and shouted to the manager ‘fuck off, I’m not going’. He never went down!”. When the Wernos closed shortly after Randall made the short transfer to the Ammanford Number 1 colliery and working here from 1965 until 1971 in secure employment. After taking a couple of years of much needed respite from the grinding work that was the life of a collier, Randall began another long stint at Cwmgwili Colliery where he worked from 1974 until 1981. With only a workforce of 379men around this time the colliery nevertheless produced high outputs of anthracite coal and would have been hard work meeting demands. Randall finally moved to his last place of work in 1981 to Abernant Colliery where rather than working underground he was employed at the Abernant Coal Preparation Plant, better known as a Washery. It was that his job was to “wash all the rocks and soil off the coal so that it could be sold. As the mine was closing they made me redundant just before the end in 1988, telling me to ‘piss off and leave before we shut the place’. They gave me a miners lamp as a retirement present and that was the end of my life on the mines“.

What did working down the mines actually entail however? With the amount of mines and collieries throughout the area ever increasing it was no surprise to note that there was a great rail transport link between the villages and it was through this method that the workers would make their way to their relative place of work. The uniform, Randall says, consisted off “big boots with thick overalls, and a helmet with a big lamp on the front. We also had another safety lamp on the belt which if it turned blue meant there was gas. If it turned blue, run like fuck! Although, it often turned blue all of the time anyway. It’s also true about the canaries, they were kept down some mines to detect gas. The tools we had were a pick and shovel, as well as the saw and hatchet. In the days before heavy machinery, my job was to stand at the coal face and using my pick and hatchet to scrape and break the coal off and then shovel it onto the conveyor belt behind me. Very physical work. The hatchet itself was always kept sharp because if the bosses noticed it wasn’t sharp you’d be in big trouble. Big trouble! Every moment of spare time underground would be spend sharpening the hatchet. What we’d have underground is our own section which was called a stint. We’d get off the underground tram and walk to the face where we’d be knackered before we’d even begin work. The typical stint would be about 12ft long and about 4ft to 8ft high so not much room to move around. We’d scrape and break the coal off using the tools and the conveyor would take it to the end of the coal face where the drams were filled up to be taken to the surface. That was it for the duration of the shift apart from when the belt stopped which signalled lunch“.

As was the norm during 20th Century South Wales and indeed before, with most men employed in the colliery it was not unusual for Randall to marry into a family of miners himself. His wife Muriel Edwards was the daughter and granddaughter of colliers and herself has recollections about men whom have long passed away. Her father David Robert Edwards was employed at the East Pit in Tairgwaith and one prominent memory of his daughter was the time he suffered an accident, unfortunately a common occurrence underground as evidenced by the appalling fatality rates. “I remember as a small girl one day a man came to the house with my father’s work clothes and left them all by the back door, where they were full of blood. A Tram had gone over his leg. He was in Morriston Hospital for a while, I think some weeks and I remember having to go visit him. After he recovered he then went to work at Abernant Colliery where he retired at 65“. David Robert, who was popularly known as Bob, was also the son of a miner and his dad John Edwards was also based at the Tairgwaith colliery, working in the Steer pit. Although only young when her grandfather was working Muriel also has a memories of John as a miner. Although their job wasn’t something that was discussed in the family home, Muriel says that “every day he used to walk from the house to the bottom of the Cefen (Cefnbrynbrain) where a train would take him to work in Tairgwaith. As he lived with us I also remember him coming home black from head to toe each day and having a bath in the tin bath that was in front of the coal fire. I was always amazed at how black the water would go and sometimes even helped wash his back. Another memory I have of my grandfather was that every friday he would get paid and would bring me and my sister Grace ice cream as a present. She would have vanilla and I would have a choc ice“.

When discussing the mines, arguably it is impossible to avoid the subject of the Miners strikes in 1984 as the episodes still remain a source of bitterness almost 30years later.
Working at Abernant Colliery at the time, Randall was in the middle of the strikes and happily recounts his involvement in the battle against Thatcher’s policies. The National Coal Board claimed that to increase profitability they had to force numerous job cuts across the nation and attempted to force miners into redundancy, something the powerful National Union of Mineworkers trade union disputed. In 1984 they savagely announced plans to cut around 20,000 jobs and would in turn ensure Wales amongst others would lose their primary source of employment. On 12 March 1984 president of the NUM Arthur Scargill announced there would be a national strike from all NUM members and the colliers subsequently downed tools and walked out.

Randall remembers the time well, something that shaped the end of his working life and no doubt accelerated the end of his life underground. “I was at Abernant when the strike happened and it was fully supported. Regardless of what those Nottingham bastards who didn’t strike claimed, there WAS a pre strike ballot and we voted the year before to give the NUM full control and decision making despite the claims to the contrary. The union voted to go on strike, so we followed with full support. Those who didn’t strike, the scabs, I won’t even look at them today. I won’t talk to them either. Even in the same village, they will always be scabs. There were many things that happened during the strike, which are funny now looking back but at the time were deadly serious. These scabs were taking the dinner off our tables. One time at the colliery a scab lorry pulled into the compound. It was brand new and still gleaming and began to stock up on coal. We couldn’t allow this to happen, as the coal leaving the colliery would weaken the strike. The driver began by saying he supported the strike and was on our side yet here he was trying to take the coal away. Before long his wagon was placed on the tracks and one of the trains rammed straight into it! There was hell of a mess on the wagon. It was destroyed. The driver was seen running up the road screaming ‘you welsh bastards!’. Another thing we used to do was ring the police unidentified every time a scab lorry turned up as they were never insured. 50yards down the road after leaving the collieries the driver would always be pulled over and arrested and it would be a small victory for us

Going to pickets also was a regular occurrence, showing solidarity on marches. One time we went to Port Talbot and there was a big roundabout in the centre, the middle of the roundabout full of dry grass. On this occasion the roundabout was set alight as part of the picket which didn’t please the police so they called in the fire service. The police by the way were animals, thugs in uniform. The firemen however refused to break the picket line and began arguing with the police. The fire in the meantime became so big that the smoke covered the motorway nearby and caused traffic to be halted for hours. A victory.”

One of the problems that the strikers face was the fact that as they weren’t working, money was scared and many already poor families slipped into poverty. The strike eventually failed in no small part to colliers needing to return to work to feed their children. As the housewife and with four teenage children to feed Muriel remembers the difficulty of those 12 months by describing them as “very hard and difficult to live through. The strike was for a year so during this time the club in Ystradowen used to supply food in a cardboard box which was all donated food that all the miners received. It only contained essentials like butter and sugar but this and help from my mother and neighbours was needed.”

Although those that broke the picket line, “scabs”, remain groups of people still capable of raising tempers 30 years later, Randall becomes agitated at memory of other people whom he still hates. During the strikes the NUM funded the striking miners with pay of £25 a week to keep them going. Dwindling funds after almost a year of striking again was another reason why the strike would eventually be defeated. Muriel luckily had another job in a local factory and therefore whilst her wage was by no means enough to live comfortably it was more than many other families had. As Randall states “some other men didn’t have any other income so what some of us did was donate the £25 pay to others to help them. We were all helping each other. However there were bad eggs who claimed strike pay whilst wives had jobs and they even worked elsewhere whilst supposedly striking. Bad eggs and who were as bad as the scabs“.

Randall’s last memory during our chat was a happy memory of good times gone by. Anyone whom has travelled through the Amman Valley from Ammanford to Ystradown is aware of the plethora of Miners Hall’s, each in differing states of dilapidation and usage. Randall mentions that each Friday on pay day (when they used to receive cash payment in a brown envelope from the office) part of the pay was taken by the management and put towards the Miners Hall’s. Randall himself contributed towards the building of Brynaman Miners Hall which today has been reinvented as the Cinema. Ofcourse, pay day often meant one main thing and that was the pub. “Work hard, Play hard” I mention to him and Randall simply responds with reminiscing smirk. My Dadcu…the Miner.

In memory of the four tragic Swansea Miners, if you want to donate you can do so at http://www.minersappealfund.org/

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The Story of the Llanelli Riots Murders of 1911

State-sanctioned murder is always a controversial topic and can guarantee to be an issue that will raise tempers and fray emotions. Whilst state-sanctioned murder in itself suggests an order passed down from the top as a directive, any murder committed by a member of that nation’s Armed forces in a non-battle scenario can also be constituted as state-sanctioned from the very existence of the uniform the perpetrator is attired in. The British Army is notionally held up without criticism within the British mainland, an organisation of hero’s that exists to impose safety on both native and foreign peoples from harmful protagonists. Yet similar to the “evil” regimes the British Government regularly claims to stand against, their own army has been the perpetrators of evil and heinous acts of its own.

It is frowned upon to call the British Army anything other than heroes in this country and understandably so. We might preach freedom and liberty in a similar way to the Americans, but this country is also victim to falling under the spell of political propaganda whilst sweeping its own despicable acts under the carpet. It would be folly to consider the entire Army evil, I know soldiers and they are just normal men making a living. What needs to be looked at however is the way orders are passed down and what is the intentions of those at the top of the politically charged hierarchy. Whilst some people tend to consider the entire existence of the British Army as a weapon of murder in itself for apparently systematically wiping out civilians through its actions throughout warzones around the world, it is the individual and seemingly spontaneous acts that concern me, especially when an act is brought to my attention mere miles from my home.


Possibly due to the independent status of the Republic of Ireland and also the advantage they have gained in the past politically by adopting an anti-British rhetoric, numerous incidents of British Army murder are now relatively well-known although they are either ignored in this country or suffer from many apologists who tend speak out in defence of the actions as necessary in combating Irish Republicanism or other causes. One such incident took place on 30th January 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland whereby 26 unarmed Civil Rights protesters and innocent bystanders were shot by the British Army, 14 men dying from their injuries. The recent Saville Inquiry investigation has given some form of satisfaction to families of the those brutally shot dead whereupon the verdict announced that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”, leading to Prime Minsiter David Cameron offering an apology on behalf of the United Kingdom for her Army’s actions. Although the most famous Bloody Sunday, another incident that occurred on 21st November 1920 also became known as Bloody Sunday. Taking place during the vicious and violent Irish War of Independence and on the back of the shootings of British intelligence agents involved in the war, the British Army and Security forces entered Croke Park where Dublin were playing Tipperary in a Gaelic football match proceeded to shoot into the crowd of innocent bystanders. 12 people were shot dead, including two boys of 10 and 11, and two more were trampled to death in the subsequent panic. An inquiry was held immediately and the opinion of the Major General in charge of the area was that “the firing on the crowd was carried out without orders, was indiscriminate and unjustifiable”. Naturally this ruling was suppressed and hidden by the British Government for 80 years to hide the atrocities that had been committed in their name. A more recent atrocity carried out by a serving British Army personnel was the convicted war criminal Corporal Donald Payne. Payne was only convicted of Inhumane treatment of prisoners after lack of evidence meant he could not be convicted of manslaughter. Payne was part of a group of soldiers under whose command a 26 year old Iraqi hotel employee died with 93 injuries about his person from an “interrogation”. The judge in charge of the court martial believed there had been undoubted covering up by the Army that restricted him from imposing a much tougher sentence to fit the crime committed. After the trial, a video was released allegedly showing Corporal Payne undertaking abuse and banned torture techniques on other Iraqi prisoners, as others have also been alleged to do.

Whilst these are infamous and thankfully rare events, one event that has escaped prominent media attention is in the midst of its 100 year anniversary. The Llanelli Railway Riots of 1911 was an effect that resulted in the callous murder of two innocent young men by the British Army, although the incident has been seemingly buried to such an extent that the majority of people within the town it occurred have never heard of the incident. Beginning on 17th August 1911 and in an act of national strike solidarity, 500 railway workers began a strike similar to many that were taking place across the country in the aim of securing better wages than the pitiful renumeration they were currently receiving. Regularly forced to work for 60-72 hours a week in return for pittance, the nation’s railway workers were up in arms and reading to take action. With Llanelli then considered the tin capital of the world and nicknamed “Tinopolis”, the ranks of the strikers were quickly swelled with up to 5,000 other workers throughout the town including the tinplate workers, gas workers and dockers. With two crossings either side of Llanelli train station, both were barricaded by workers ensuring nothing passed through the vital commercial link to West Wales and Ireland.

With the line blocked for the entire of Friday, Winston Churchill ordered troops to enter the area and to disperse the pickets. Continuous small battles were launched by the pickets to regain control of the crossings after they were inevitably regained by the might of the military. Saturday morning saw a train allowed to pass by the authorities who by now controlled the crossing but it was pursued by protesters who commandeered and stopped the Fishguard-bound vehicle. Most of the protesters and bystanders were positioned on high terraces either side of the railway track, most actually standing in their own back gardens. After the incident with the train, the authorities ordered magistrate Henry Wilkins to the track and whom proceeded to read the “Riot Act”, which included the lines “our Sovreign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves and peaceably depart to their habitations or to their lawful businesses”. The act was designed and implemented as a warning for a group of 12 or more “unlawfully assembled” men to disperse or face tough punishment. With many unable to disperse due to already being at their place of residence, the 60 seconds were counted out meticulously on a small waistcoat watch before the disgraceful murderous shots were fired.

Two men were murdered. One was John ‘Jac’ John and another was Leonard Worsell. Jac John was a 21 year old whom played rugby for Oriental Stars and was considered something of a local sporting star. He was watching the event unfolding from his garden wall with some friends when a bullet hit a man in the throat. The next bullet fired hit Jac in his lung and was a fatal shot. The unfortunate irony is that Jac had a relatively well paid job as a tinplate worker and the strike didn’t affect him personally, he was merely present out of a well-intentioned act of solidarity for his struggle fellow man. This would cost him his life, a shocking outcome for a promising young man described as “one of the most popular young men in the town”. The second man unlawfully and brutally shot dead by the British Army, Worcester Regiment was the even younger Leonard Worsell. Perhaps even more tragically Londoner Leonard was not even present as a protester and had no qualms about showing solidarity for his fellow townsmen. A lodger at Number 6 High Street, Leonard was murdered whilst he was bare-chested without shoes or socks in the middle of Shaving. Merely popping outside his house during his morning ritual to see what the commotion was about, Leonard was hit in his heart with a bullet and dropped to the floor. The crowd fled amidst cries of “murderers”.

Although the deaths caused widescale rioting to erupt out of grief and anger, the funerals of both men attracted an unprecedented 30,000 people who lined the streets of the town, solidifying the area’s staunch socialist and Labour sentiments after the murder of its two Martyrs. What makes the entire matter even more tragic is that by the time the two men were needlessly and criminally murdered, the nationwide strike had been repealed with Churchill himself declaring “they have beaten us”. A few days later an army deserter from the Worcester Regiment was found 90 miles from the town and was identified as Harold Spiers. He claimed that as one of the soldiers at the crossing, he was instructed but refused to shoot on innocent and unarmed people, backing up the claim by the protesters that the perpetrators were indeed murderers. Many in the town itself remain unaware of the atrocity that took place in quiet Llanelli town a century ago, a conspiracy many consider to claim “it never happened” by the British government and the collaborating local Chapels who had much influence in those days, alleging “shame”. There is nothing shameful in being innocently murdered by the state and in a similar way to how the British Government apologised for the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident, the people of Wales, Llanelli and most importantly the families of those involved should be given a personal and heartfelt apology for an incident that should not be forgotten.

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Castles of Wales: My Secret Vice

So I have a random hobby; A hobby that seems utterly left-field considering the macho, sports-driven and party-loving entourage I am often found relaxing with; A hobby that tends to be more popular amongst middle aged tourists from afar with huge paparazzi-like cameras than a local 20-something utilising the full benefits of a small trendy mobile to capture images. The hobby is random, this fact is inescapable.

In pursuit of my hobby the looks I get from dishevelled and sweaty couples struggling with the castle’s demands as I push past them are sometimes bewildering. Despite the fact I’ve barely come 20 miles and they’ve sometimes travelled thousands, I tend to be the person totally out of place best displayed by my lack of cliched tourist baseball cap, packed lunch and various guide books. Yes indeed, Castles appear to be the sole domain of geeks, pensioners and amazed foreigners lost on the historic trail from London.

Curiously I don’t remember having a particular fixation on castles as a child. You do sometimes see children running around dressed up as Knights, with toy swords defending their imaginary kingdoms, but I can’t say that I ever did. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and then Football were the dominating creative outlets throughout my childhood, both of which just reinforces the randomness of this adult obsession of mine. This was evident not many weeks ago on a night out where I grew excited at some ancient ruins in a city centre, captivated by the way this behemoth of a previous time was now absorbed by the modern buildings around it. It did strike me that this is a castle I had previously spent almost two decades aware of, yet totally ignored. Now I can just stop amongst the hectic throng of the inner city crowds and just concentrate fixatedly on the one-time impressive structure. This is no longer an isolated incident, it happens regularly. Every reasonable journey I now take involves Google maps and Wikipedia, pinpointing whether exactly there is a castle worth visiting in the vicinity. If there is one thing working in my favour it is that every night I lay my head to rest in a nation acclaimed as the ‘land of castles’. Wales is readily acknowledged as having more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Europe, a permanent memorial to its turbulent and storied past. The majority of castles that now stand in ruins along the rugged and mountainous terrain of Wales are an acknowledgment of its oppression by its larger neighbour in England, most of them being English creations in the bloody and eventually succesful attempt to bring the Welsh people under their control. Symbols of power, the looming structures were built in many historically strategic points and were the bastions of strength that represented the English Crown in an unruly and hostile area.

Having become initially entranced with this turbulent history of our fascinating nation, researching and enjoying tales of Welsh rebellions and Princes it was natural that the sites of so many of these stories would come to the forefront of this obsession. With a burgeoning feeling of pride in the country, the logical step was to take advantage of the plethora of local history sites during my prolonged absence from work. Everyone in the region where I live is aware of Carreg Cennen Castle but this amazing ancient structure remains almost unloved and lonely within its community, especially amongst the ignorant adolescents. This generation fails to take interest in the architectural wonder that sits almost perilously on a crag cliff high above the fields and hills of rural Carmarthenshire. Sitting on remains on the edge of the deep and dramatic cliff face is a moment of immense serenity, the kind people in the cities pay outlandish fees to receive from their masseuse. Apart from the gale of the wind and the occasional sound of local wildlife, the quiet is intact. If wildlife-inclined, there is also a vast array of various animals that can be sighted, from the high soaring Kite’s or the wild Rabbits that loiter perilously close to the edge of the abyss. Even the breathless walk up to the Castle brings the inevitable contact with rural Welsh sheep, one having to almost chase back the dozens of fluffy ewe’s that block your access to the rubble. The base of the outer walls still stands, entrenched into the limstone precipice onto which it was constructed, and although barely standing a few feet high in many places it does allow one to mentally picture where the castle actually began and ended. Whilst the castle itself (view notwithstanding) is very much the typical norm, one popular part of Carreg Cennen is the dungeon, a sloping descent into darkness made notable for the fact that as one descends into the cliff the small lookholes in the cliff-face again allow magnificent and as yet unrivalled views across the Brecon Beacons. Naturally built with defence and not scenery in mind, the castle stood up to a siege from Owain Glyndwr and his rebellious forces in July 1403, extolling the virtues of building such a structure high above any risk from attack. With the sounds of bowmen, cavalry charges and dying screams long gone, if there is a place to get away from the troubles of the world, to relax with ones thoughts, then on top of a cliff looking out over the Brecon Beacons is up there with the very best National Geographic can offer.

With my local castle undoubtedly being my favourite, there are numerous others I have come across on my travels that deserve some column space. Barely a matter of miles across the Carmarthenshire landscape also lies another castle which whilst not having the scenery of Carreg Cennen does possess a standing of greater historic importance to the region. Dinefwr Castle is situated in the grounds of the National Trust-run Dinefwr park which lies on the edge of Llandeilo town centre and rises above the Towy valley. Noted as the seat of the Principality of Dehubarth, Dinefwr Castle was basically the Medieval equivalent of Buckingham Palace for the Kingdom in which it was situated. Amongst those giants of Welsh history whom came into possession of the esteemed Dinefwr Castle included Hywel Dda, Rhodri the Great, Rhys ap Gryffudd as well as both Llewelyn the Great and Llewelyn the Last. Similar to its sister castle at Carreg Cennen, Dinefwr was yet another castle that was unsuccessfully beseiged by Owain Glyndwr during his attempt to free English rule from Wales. The castle itself is reached by yet another tiring walk to the top although a pleasant one and the castle itself is still in decent shape, the main attraction being the spiral staircase to the top of the keep that allows extensive views of the valley floor that is spread out below the castle. Whilst less to see and do than at Carreg Cennen, Dinefwr is a melancholy place where Kings and Princes used to roam and is therefore worth a visit any time.

North-East Wales can be considered the ‘goldmine’ of Welsh castles, the magnificently massive Conwy Castle and Caernarfon Castle considered national treasures and two infamous tourist destinations. In their shadow somewhat is Harlech Castle, forever immortalised in the military march “Men of Harlech”. Similar to Carreg Cennen, Harlech is also based atop a gigantic cliff albeit a cliff that is not only at the foot of Snowdonia but on the edge of the Irish sea, a strategic position that has played a vital part in the castle’s history. As soon as you step into the town of Harlech the castle dominates the skyline, rising unimaginably high above the street in a way that must have been terrifying for a mediavel people unaccustomed to skyscrapers and their ilk. Build by Edward I as part of his conquest of Wales, the castle was one that was actually captured by Owain Glyndwr who held it between 1404 and 1409. Later still, during the War of the Roses between the vying Royal Houses of Lancaster and York the castle came under siege for Seven Years, the longest such siege in British histor and which thus formed the inspirational basis for the ‘Men of Harlech’ song that has remained in the consciousness of the Welsh to the present day. Perhaps the greatest attribute that Harlech Castle posseses is the impressive and complete gatehouse that greets the visitor, an hulking mass of brick that allows yourself to be transported back to a bygone era as you climb the steps into the castle. A mythological castle in the true heart of Wales.

Travelling further across the green and sloping lands of this small nation, signs for castles are a regular occurrence. Despite the many dozens to choose from and regardless of when they were built, each structure offers a unique and individual history, adding to the poignancy as you explore the remains of what used to be living quarters, prisons and kitchens to whole generations of families. One of the redeeming features for many visitors is the scenes you usually find in Hollywood epics – the castle siege. Every castle has its war history, particularly during the decade of Welsh rebellion at the cusp of the 15th century, led by the aforementioned national patriot Owain Glyndwr. During this period castles were lost and recaptured, and thousands were killed in the process. Indeed these castles are long lost graveyards to the fallen men given the unenviable teak of breeching the mammoth and imposing stone walls in the face of fierce attack. Aside from the symbolism of what these castles stand for, the brutal subjection of the peasants to a higher ruling class, they also offer the chance for childish adventure, a playground of epic proportions for child and adult alike. From discovering the ancient weapons of Caerphilly to climbing the skyscraper-like towers in Harlech, there is nothing like discovering passageways and views for the first time. Yes, a random hobby. But one I truly love.

Castles Visited

  • Caerphilly Castle
  • Cardiff Castle
  • St Fagan’s Castle
  • Carreg Cennen Castle
  • Carmarthen Castle
  • Dinefwr Castle
  • Dryslwyn Castle
  • Kidwelly Castle
  • Laugharne Castle
  • Llandovery Castle
  • Llansteffan Castle
  • Harlech Castle
  • Raglan Castle
  • Carew Castle
  • Haverfordwest Castle
  • Pembroke Castle
  • Picton Castle
  • Tenby Castle
  • Brecon Castle
  • Oxwich Castle
  • Weobley Castle
  • Oystermouth Castle
  • Pennard Castle
  • Swansea Castle
  • Manorbier Castle
  • Llawhaden Castle
  • Narbeth Castle
  • Lamphey Palace
  • Skenfrith Castle
  • Ludlow Castle
  • Chepstow Castle

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My Dissertation; An Analysis of Newspaper Representations of the Whitechapel Murders of 1888 and the Role the Media Played in the Infamy of Jack the Ripper

Abstract

The dissertation was an 8,000 word analytical research project on the topic of newspaper representations of the Whitechapel murder cases of 1888. The dramatic and at times obsessive way the topic has been reported over the last 119 years, coupled with a personal interest in the case, it was compelling to conduct a research project into a subject of deep cultural significance to the history of an industry. Before carrying out this detailed project, personal experience was limited between the Ripper case and as a trainee journalist, the media industry. However, through the detailed research conducted, it has now been possible to combine two interests into one topic. With research particularly restricted to textbook and online sources due to the amount of time that has passed since the case, it soon became evident that the newspaper industry and the Ripper brand-name relied on each other to create a single media phenomenon. The critical outcome of the investigation has suggested that the media representation of a group of murders helped characterize a murderer into a commercially viable character.

Introduction & Background Information

The infamous Whitechapel murder spree of the autumn 1888 was a horrifying event that subsequently gave rise to the figure that is globally referred to as ‘Jack the Ripper’, a pseudonym first referenced on a letter sent to the Central News Agency on the 25th September 1888 and thus repeated on every newspaper the following morning (Evans & Skinner, 2001:16). The unidentified perpetrator, even one-hundred-and-nineteen-years later despite the advent of forensic tests such as DNA, committed five appalling acts of murder on local prostitutes in the squalid and run-down East London borough.

The typical murder by the serial killer was perpetrated on the street or alley in a public place; the victim was strangled to unconsciousness before the victim’s throat was cut, almost to decapitation, The London Times (Sept 1, 1888) reporting “Her throat was cut almost ear to ear” (Brown, R.J., 2005). Finally, perhaps most chilling of all, the body was mutilated. The removal of a couple of internal organs with such anatomical skill has led to the common theory that the perpetrator possessed good surgical knowledge, often leading to suspicions that the killer was a butcher or a doctor; “in the opinion of most of the surgeons who examined the bodies, most believed that the killer had to have some degree of anatomical knowledge to do what he did” (Ryder, 2006). Since he was never apprehended by police, this murderer has become one of history’s most infamous figures. A recent poll by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) revealed that “Jack the Ripper has been voted the worst Briton of the last 1000 years” (BBC News Online) underlying the lasting legacy of his actions. The Metropolitan Police themselves state “the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ has become the most famous in the annals of murder” (Metropolitan Police, 2006).

The media holds a unique control over the country and as such has the ability to influence and manipulate public opinion on a subject. The Political editor of the Sun Trevor Kavanagh was once “called the most powerful man in British politics” (Marr, 2004:186) by former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, which whilst an exaggeration underlines just how influential members of the media can.  During the late Victorian age, during the period which includes the Ripper reportage that shall be studied later on, the press industry held a great deal of power and their published work was taken seriously by a generation without internet or TV to offer them a different perspective on events unfolding. Curran (2002) states:

 during the nineteenth century the prestige and influence of press proprietors increased as a consequence of the growing circulations they commanded and an increased measure of political autonomy. Leading proprietors and editors were assiduously cultivated by government ministers and a growing number of them entered parliament (Curran, 2001:63)

Boyce (1978) further states that newspapers held a “claim for a recognized and respectable place in the British political system”. Known as the ‘Hypodermic Syringe Model’, “the relationship between media and audiences is conceived as a mechanistic and unsophisticated process, by which the media ‘inject’ values, ideas and information directly into the passive receiver” (Jewkes, 2006:9). This thesis shall analytically explore how representations of the media have thus influenced the continuous intrigue into the Whitechapel murders through its ‘injection’ of ideas to its audience. “Every day newspaper headlines scream for our attention with stories about crime designed to shock, frighten, titillate and entertain” (Jewkes, 2006:3). Using prominent representation theorists such as Stuart Hall and Nick Lacey, together with actual replications of newspaper reports from the Jack the Ripper killings this thesis will compose and construct a thesis on the particular representations of a sadistic killer and the role the media played in transferring an actual event into a global brand name. This dissertation will also aim to, using detailed research and analytical methods (refer to Methodology below) investigate the role of the media in the creation of a figure dubbed “Jack the Ripper”, in particular how specific newspaper representations of the murders helped fuel a cult following.

Methodology

In order to effectively answer the question and satisfy all criteria, extensive research into the topic was needed, and formed the basis of the investigation.

Research can be defined as “an attempt to discover something” (Dominick & Wimmer, 2006). In reference to this investigation, the attempt is to discover how the media portrayed and represented the killer known as Jack the Ripper. This chapter will essentially be a critique on the methods, and the advantages and disadvantages of said methods.

Despite the actual murder case being 118 years old, the current plethora of books, magazines and theories being distributed and released each year provided a helpful introduction to the subject. The other aspect of the investigation, namely Representation Theory, suggested a harder, more detailed search for literature and as such required more effort. As defined by White (2003) “Research should be focused, not general” (White, 2003:21). On the basis of this academic observation, this analytical thesis was focused primarily on the representations of the murderer as depicted by the nation’s media of the time, as opposed to other, vaguer factors in the case.

Major methods in constructing a thesis come from undertaking concise and detailed primary research. This form of research, as the name may suggest, “involves firsthand observation and study by a researcher” (Berger, 2000). A noted problem in undertaking primary research was the difficulty in locating actual primary sources regarding the Jack the Ripper case. With a century elapsing since the event, much of the material generated from the killings has long since been rendered lost and/or destroyed. A major event which has adversely affected research on the case was World War Two. “The City was heavily bombed during the blitz. All four stations in the Square Mile received direct hits” (20th Century London, n.d.). This resulted in the research restricted to chiefly secondary resources and essentially literature. A piece of primary research that was possible however was the location of actual newspaper articles that were essential in analytically evaluating to understand and decode newspaper representations of the crime. For the purposes of reliability, the London Times, the so-called ‘paper of record’ for Britain and a paper historically connected with a high level of journalism, was used for this task.

With a case of such notoriety though, research on the case study Jack the Ripper was not difficult. Background information was essential in establishing a detailed case study capable of being integral to this dissertation. A major part of the research was many hours of intense reading on the subject of Jack the Ripper. As a character very much in the public eye, evidenced by the Johnny Depp –led Hollywood production From Hell (Smith 2006), information was fairly easy to come by. Within a period of twelve months, twenty-one books were released on the subject (Schachner 1996). Further investigation unveils that:

 since the appearance of Marie Belloc Lowndes’s The Lodger in 1911, Jack the Ripper has inspired almost one hundred books and pamphlets, as well as countless articles, more than twenty films, a few operas, and at least one ghoulish comic book (Perry Curtis Jr, 2001:27)

With the plethora of books readily available, it was essential to purchase certain books to gain a wider understanding of the subject. Excursions to such book retailers such as WH Smith, Wetherstones and Borders offered little substance. Popular and commercial books such as ‘Uncle Jack’, ‘Ripperology’ and ‘Jack the Ripper: 150 Suspects’ offered little or no insightful observations of the media, preferring to focus on the intrigue and mystery of the brand name to sell rather than detailed theory. One particular book that was purchased as it was deemed a popular book written by reputable authors was Jack the Ripper: Letter from Hell (Evans & Skinner, 2001). The book is an analytical study on the famous ‘letters’ from persons claiming to be the killer, and investigates the legitimacy of the letters. A major aspect of the text is the role the press played in the letters and thus were they responsible for the creation of a media image through their representations of the letters. The book’s claim and investigation of journalists’ motives in possibly inciting a persona of the serial killer for their own purpose ensures the book’s importance in determining how the killer was represented. “Viewed in the context of the great press build-up, the true ‘Jack the Ripper’ can be seen as a bogeyman created by a sensation-hungry media” (Evans & Skinner, 2001:45). The book was also the cornerstone of the research process, as the content was varied, encapsulating different aspects of the case such as police suspects, journalist reports, police reports etc. A favourable review of the book which led to the purchase of the text was from the Centre of Metropolitan History: “It is an admirable example of the imaginative presentation of original source material, and of considerable interest to cultural and social historians generally, as well as Ripper enthusiasts” (Creaton, 2003)

Further searching was essential to unearth rare books that will offer greater emphasis on the topic that this dissertation is the focus on. Whilst bookshops do offer a great range of information, a drawback is that it takes time to go visit a bookshop, and even then they may night have the book in stock. An advantage of undertaking research in the 21st Century is the almost universal access to the Internet. Bradley (2002) states

The internet can be a very fast and effective way to communicate with other people or to retrieve information. A company report can be obtained in seconds, a bibliography can be compiled in minutes, and research that would otherwise take days may be completed in hours (Bradley, 2002:5).

With the lack of particular texts relevant to the investigation, the Internet offered an alternative method to locate rare texts. With many popular websites such as Amazon.com and Ebay.com offering millions of texts, (Bradley, 2002:111), it was possible to purchase books recommended by leading academics such as Steven Ryder of Casebook.org. These online bookstores were also of use as they “sometimes also provide reviews of the books and links to books on related subjects” (Berger, 2000). Many of the books located and thus bought were rare books, some no longer in production. An example of this is the Quarterly Subscription Book Ripper Notes (Evans et al, 2005), which was purchased from Amazon.com and which is unavailable in the UK. Another text purchased through this method was ‘Jack the Ripper & the London Press’ (Perry Curtis Jr, 2001). As the name suggests, this book was integral to the research process as it focused primarily on the relationship between the killer and the press as one discussion, as opposed to two elements separately. As cited earlier about research being focused, this text was thus considered essential. A notable review of the book by Christopher Flaying, Rector of the Royal College of Art, London was featured on the back cover, “Jack the Ripper & the London Press gets behind the headlines and steel engravings to the ways in which the story was originally constructed: it is a major contribution to cultural history” (Perry Curtis Jr, 2001, Cover). Two chapters of note in the book were Chapter 3: The Theory and Practice of Victorian Journalism and Chapter 4: Sensation News. These two chapters helped gain an insight of the sensationalism nature of journalism which led to the representation of a murder as the Jack the Ripper persona. The following paragraph alone provides evidence of the sensationalist representations of the newspapers about the killer.

In the autumn of 1888, reporters dwelled on the ‘thrill of horror’ that ran through the country as a result of the atrocities taking place in Whitechapel. After dipping his pen in purple ink, one journalist wrote: “Horror ran through the land. Men spoke of it with bated breath, and pale-lipped women shuddered as they read the dreadful details. People afar off smelled blood, and the superstitious said that the skies were of a deeper red that autumn”. No doubt such hyperbole reflected the horrors of the Ripper’s mutilations. But when combined with the clinical details revealed by the police surgeons at each inquest, the resulting catalyst enabled most Fleet Street papers to attain new peaks in circulation (Perry Curtis Jr, 2001:77)

A slight disadvantage of this method is that some of the text’s are imported from America which thus drives the waiting time and the cost up, however this is a small inconvenience to gain valuable literary research on the topic.  A further advantage of the internet is the advent of online journals and texts, many of which are of a detailed and focused nature compared to books, as they tend to be shorter and to the point. As with searching for books online, the content of online journals tend to be more focused and as such can provide a more detailed and introspective theory. A downside however, is the questionable validity of the articles. Bradley (2002) mentions “you cannot automatically trust the information that you find on the web. Since no one is in charge of it, anyone is free to make available almost any type of information they wish” (Bradley, 2001:114).  It is considerably harder to secure a book publishing contract than it is to publish an article on the internet. Due to this, it was important to only find articles and other online texts through websites of good repute, such as Google Scholar, Athens and other academically supported institutions. Stebbins (2006) states that one must stick to ‘published resources’ on the net, scholarly texts which “has generally undergone some type of vetting process including editing, fact-checking, or peer review, making it a more reliable resource” (Stebbins, 2006:7). This peer review method, which involves “experts in a field reviewing and providing feedback on the work of other scholars before the publishing process is completed” (Stebbins, 2006:7), ensures the resource is valid and can thus be relied on to provide an accurate opinion.  Entering the name of the two prominent representation theorists Nick Lacey & Stuart Hall brought up a number of articles on their opinions which provided background information and valuable research on the topic. However, it was essential to ensure that all articles were trustworthy, which was done by making sure that they were referenced or recommended by an .ac.uk site.

The internet, as stated earlier, is a source of endless information on subjects as obscure as one can imagine. Hock (1999) states that “on an extensive study of the degree to which search engines cover the total content of the web, in the study, the researchers estimated that the web contains 320 million pages of information” (Hock, 2001:13). On a well-known topic such as Jack the Ripper, the amount of basic information available is endless. Entering “Jack the Ripper” alone into a universal search engine such as Google displays 1,540,000 potential results. This shows the internet has a large scope for information regarding even the vaguest of topics. However, there are downsides to this method; the search engines tend to return all the data they can receive, hence out of the 1.5m results, perhaps only 200 of them are relevant. “The search engines are unable to make any qualitative judgments on the value or authority of the information they find” (Bradley, 2002:9).

A prominent part of the research was the extensive and detailed library search. Library searches are critical to a detailed thesis, and help to “gain as much information as we can about a given subject before narrowing down the focus for our particular research project” (Berger, 2000:21). Numerous libraries were frequented in order to broaden the search for relevant information; however the two libraries of particular help were the University of Chester library and the University of Liverpool. An advantage of frequenting these libraries was the vast array of academic texts, as opposed to the more commercial offerings in the public libraries. A helpful aspect of a library search is that generally books of a common topic tend to be stacked together on same shelves, thus locating one book of interest leads to numerous other texts. As university libraries, a distinct advantage also was free use of the facilities, thus ensuring costs were negligible, allowing extensive hours of research on the topic at no inconvenience. The high-tech implementations at the library, namely the use of computer searches, also allowed focused research. Academic texts such as ‘Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices” by noted theorist Stuart Hall (1997) would be difficult to find unless bought from a specialist bookstore, however would be at an inflated price. Amazon.co.uk, an online bookstore noted for located rare books and selling at discount prices, lists this book on sale for £20.89 [1], whereas it is accessible for free from the University library.

Despite being a secondary research-based thesis, a form of primary research conducted would be the acquisition of actual newspaper reportage from autumn 1888 concerning the Ripper killings.  The newspaper clippings were then used as a form of content analysis in order to uncover and analyse representation. Content Analysis is “any systematic procedure devised to examine the content of recorded information” (Dominick & Wimmer, 2006). Combining this analysis with representation theory as retrieved from the secondary research helped ascertain a satisfactory evaluation to the thesis.  A disadvantage of this method is that whilst the available clippings available online are helpful, they still do not provide a complete historical record.  Due to circumstances beyond control, there were a few notable methods that were omitted. One such method that theoretically could have been of help would be interviews. Interviews are generally an integral part of researching a topic, as they help “find out about people’s ideas, their thoughts, their opinions, their attitudes, and what motivates them” (Berger, 2000:113). A further advantage to this technique is that “one can generally record interviews and thus have a written record that can be analyzed in detail” (Berger, 2000:113). Various disadvantages of this method is that interviews are difficult to conduct and involve a great deal of work, and the “information gained is always suspect” (Berger, 2000:125). A problem relevant to this thesis was the difficulty in contacting the relevant people. Representation theorists such as Nick Lacey and Stuart Hall could not be contacted, whilst the journalists that created the Ripper Reportage are now deceased.

Chapter 1: Theoretical Chapters

Chapter 1a: Introduction to General Representation Theory

Representation as an idea covers many broad areas, from Politics to Art, and from Law to Psychology. Within this thesis, the particular emphasis of representation will be on its effects in and around the Media world. Representation is partially defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The action of placing a fact, etc., before another or others by means of discourse; a statement or account, esp. one intended to convey a particular view or impression of a matter in order to influence opinion or action”  (Simpson & Weiner, 1989:659). Using certain facts, how a person can manipulate these facts, or concepts, into an opinion which can thus be used to influence and determine a third parties’ action is the basis of this thesis, with particular attention to the practice of representation in the media. Hall (1997) states that

Representation is the production of the meaning of the concepts in our minds through language. It is the link between concepts and language which enables us to refer to either the real world of objects, people or events, or indeed to imaginary worlds of fictional objects, people and events (Hall, 1997:17).

It is an idea which allows people to ‘make sense of’ the world, to understand each other through their representation of a common subject. Representation allows people to express a complex through between each other.

“To represent something is to describe or depict it, to call it up in the mind by description or portrayal of imagination; to place a likeness of it before us in our mind or in the senses” (Hall, 1997:16). Taking Hall’s perfect example, Christianity is a prime area of where representation is consistently in occurrence. Angels, Demons, Biblical Figures and the like are not characters of a common everyday occurrence to the average person, and as such Christianity, like the other main religions, relies on symbols and their ‘representation’ of what that symbol has come to mean. An example would be a Cross is a ‘representation’ of Jesus Christ, thus meaning a cross is used to depict Jesus in general everyday life as opposed to the physical person.

The cross simply consists of two wooden planks nailed together; but in the context of Christian belief and teaching, it takes on, symbolizes or comes to stand for a wider set of meanings about the crucifixion of the Son of God, and this is a concept we can put into words and pictures (Hall, 1997:16)

To take language as an example of representation and how it works, the separate elements of language i.e. sounds, words, gestures etc are meaningless when considered on their own. Individually they have no purpose. Collectively they construct a meaning and can portray an idea, they become signs; “they are the vehicles or media which carry meaning because they operate as symbols, which stand for or represent the meanings we wish to communicate” (Hall, 1997:5). Therefore, words are signs that represent ideas and feelings, and can thus be interpreted in any number of ways, from person to person and from language to language. It is vital to note that representation is crucial in helping to separate different cultures and nationalities. A ‘sign’ or ‘symbol’ in one culture/nation can be totally misinterpreted in another culture.  Hall states: “Visual signs and images, even when they bear a close resemblance to the things to which they refer, are still signs: They carry meaning and thus have to be interpreted” (Hall, 1997:19). A prominent example of this misinterpretation between cultures is evident with the Swastika. Traditionally a Sanskrit symbol loosely symbolising “well-being and good fortune” and travelling the “world as a good luck symbol” (Boxer, 2000), it is regularly featured on religious paraphernalia, particularly in Buddhism and Hinduism. Many temples feature the Swastika prominently and even on Indian currency [2]. In recent history the Swastika has been linked with the German Nazi party and Adolf Hitler, and as a consequence of the party’s racist ideology and the Holocaust has remained one of the most controversial and offensive motif’s in history [4]. As a consequence, the Swastika is still revered as a holy symbol throughout the Hindu world, whilst in western civilization the symbol is closely identified with white supremacy and racial hate, often resulting in confusion when the two cultures collide. In 2002 toys from China featuring the Buddhist symbol were mistaken in Canada as the Nazi symbol, causing distress to the families whom received the unfortunate gift [3]. Such is the difference in the representations of the Swastika, whilst one culture identifies the simple symbol as a holy item which is government-approved, Germany determines the symbol to be illegal as defined by its Criminal Code: “means of propaganda, the contents of which are intended to further the aims of a former National Socialist organization, shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine” (Dannemann, 2001). Hence, the Swastika is a prime example of an image and word which has substantially different interpretations depending on the culture the receiver hails from.

Chapter 1b: Media Representation

A subgenre of the umbrella-term ‘representation’ is media representation, simply representation with particular emphasis on the media industry. “Representation, in the press as in all other kinds of media and discourse, is a constructive practice. Events and ideas are not communicated neutrally, in their natural structure, as it were” (Fowler, 1991). The press, due to restrictions such as the particular editorial structure of each paper, is partially forced to alter its writing style and can thus alter the reality of the situation. Mackinnon (2001:24) states that there are many differences and contradictions between life as shown in the media and the lives lived by the majority of people. The Ideology and discourse used in creating the press can indeed help to “shape, rather mirror the world” (Fowler, 1991:4). With the media commanding a sizeable amount of power, as stated earlier, it is possible for them to construct news that is not entirely retrospective of the event that has taken place, and can thus influence the reader into accepting and digesting values and ideologies that are not entirely true. Fowler (1991) believes that the perception of newspaper coverage being hard facts is wrong, but is rather ideas. Ideology is a world view, considered a coherent system of beliefs which are thus used to make judgements about society. There exists a dominant ideology, “which inflects everybody’s perception of the world” (Lacey, 1998:98). Lacey (1998) further states that it is impossible to know the real world, there are only different ways of interpreting what is happening, ‘ways of seeing’ the world using different ideologies. Ideologies are often a set of ideas which only give some account of the social world, usually a partial and selective one for the benefit of the person/organisation supplying the idea.

An example of an ideology with different interpretations between cultures is the physical appearance of a person which in the developing countries can signify malnutrition and starvation. Presently, a toned slim body in the western world can signify a careful diet and affluence to afford healthy food and gym memberships. Similarly, certain newspaper groups have ideologies that are apparent in their writing style. They use their ideologies in for their own gain. A prominent example of a newspaper changing ideologies for their own personal gain would The Sun, a newspaper which had generally portrayed the right-wing ideas of conglomerate owner Rupert Murdoch. In 1997, possibly sensing the change in government from Conservative to Labour, and the need to maintain co-operation with a new government for political purposes, as well as the need to maintain its now-primarily Labour-supporting readership, Murdoch instructed his paper and its journalists to support Labour Leader Tony Blair (Street, 2001:133). It can be considered that the lexical content of the newspaper “is constructed according to the stylistic and ideological conventions for editorials” (Fowler, 2001), the voice is institutional rather personal. This implementation of ideologies from editors onto their journalists creates writers constituted by the discourse which is in turn a reflection of the ideology.

Discourse is a group of statements which provide a language for talking and representing the knowledge about a particular topic (Hall, 1992:291).  Discourse can be considered ideology in action. An idea of the current bourgeois ideology is that education is an essential part of life, thus the discourse of this ideology would be subjects of education, namely English, Maths and so on (Lacey, 1998:106). Using the previous example of the Sun, their discourse in the run-up to the 1997 General Election reflected the ideology of the paper, supporting Blair and running down the opposition. Such a statement as “it is Blair’s final election and he deserves one last chance to fulfil great promises he keeps making” (Hall, Burt & Symon, 2005) reflects the paper’s thoughts and can attempt to influence reader’s opinions. An aspect of discourse analysis that is particularly useful in determining the representations of a subject in the media is linguistic analysis. “Words convey the imprint of society and of value judgements in particular – they convey connoted as well as denoted meanings” (Richardson, 2007:47). The use of nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs all help to create meanings to the text, to influence, persuade and offer ideological views about the subject. Adapted from Richardson (2007:48), an example upon where discourse is used to shape an actual event is the reporting of the Iraq war. Whereas it could be argued that Britain and America have conquered Iraq, the adjective ‘conquer’ suggests mass murder and an unlawful invasion, which would be counterproductive to represent Britain as the good people. The word ‘liberate’ is used instead, suggesting Britain are freeing the people in an act of goodwill, thus altering the representation of the war to paint Britain as the ‘good guys’.

Sex attacks often use discourse to influence the reader and to portray, or represent, the perpetrator as an evil man incapable of adapting to a civilized social life. Perpetrators, despite a lack of intimate knowledge of the person in question, are regularly described as ‘maniac’, ‘monster’, ‘fiend’ or even ‘beasts’. The terms, which would suggest the person of having sub-human and animalistic characterizations and tendencies, helps to create a represented image of the attacker, oblivious to the full facts of the case. The use of adjectives and verbs by the newspaper industry also help create ideas in the mind of the reader about the subject, thus creating or enforcing representative views about the subject. The Sun ran a headline on March 2, 2005 of ‘This illegal immigrant drink-driver killed a boy in an uninsured motor. The sentence in 8 weeks’. The editor had decided that the wickedness of the man’s action was not enough; he felt the need to destroy the man’s character and to represent the driver as an illegal immigrant, despite evidence further into the article which suggests he was not technically illegal by governmental criteria (Richardson, 2007:51). This use of discourse to create representation is a conceptual tool named the ‘Ideological Square’ by Teun van Dijk. It is essentially a way of perceiving and representing the world, prominently through ‘our/us’ and ‘their/them’ methodology. The square states that generally ‘outsiders’ of various types will traditionally be negatively represented whilst ‘insiders’ receive a positive representation. Negative characterizations of the outsiders are prominently featured, whilst the positive characteristics of the insiders receives attention. This is featured clearly in the press industry, where lexical discourse such as “sneak attacks”, “without provocation”, “demented”, “their” and “kill” were used to describe Iraq during the Gulf War whilst terms such as “we”, “liberate”, and “our boys” provide positive representation of Britain in the British press, part of an overlying paper ideology of Britain-good, Iraq-bad (Richardson, 2007:48).

Re-presentation has also been used by the media to depict figures and persons, to the point where public opinion through this media re-presentation is convinced that it is fact. Certain objects, and individuals, will carry specific ideas and connotations and will become associated with signs and particular meanings. The President of the USA possesses connotations of power and world leadership, emphasised through the media as the importance to which every detail of his leadership is diligently reported (Lacey 1998:132). The media will take a person or a group and will then re-present it in their own vision, possibly for their personal gain. To once again use the example of The Sun, they re-presented Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 General Election as the man to drive Britain forward, possibly with the personal gain of a close relationship with the new Prime Minister. A prominent aspect of media representation is stereotyping. This concept emphasises that however realistic media images may seem, they never present the world direct, rather they are always a construction, a re-presentation of the real (Branston & Stafford, 2006:141). Stereotypes are widely circulated ideas or assumptions about a particular group, generally a categorization of people with similar features or behaviour. A student is stereotyped as lazy; sexually promiscuous; into soft and hard drugs; dress scruffily; poor; and politically left-wing (Lacey, 1998). This stereotyping, just as they often are, is commonly erroneous in content but remains rigid and does not tend to change. MacKinnon (2003:23) debates that the dominant ideology controls and determines attitudes, and will not only dominant, but will ‘normalize’. Thus the stereotypical view of a topic/person will become the universal and natural idea. The purpose of stereotypes is to enable each person, using their cultural maps detailed earlier, to gain an understanding from everyday life and to navigate through the wide mix of different people with different cultural maps.

Without stereotypes, particularly in the media, it would be hard to inform the reader of a particular person or event taking place and the meaning behind it. As with discourse, stereotyping can be linked to ideology as “Stereotypes are not true or false, but reflect a particular set of ideological values” (Lacey, 1998:139). Racism is still a prominent aspect in stereotypical views, where black people have great athletic prowess or are criminals, German people have no humour and Indian people are all doctors. Lacey (1998) believes that black people’s suffering of racism is stemmed from the ideological concept that during slavery they were characterized as docile, lazy, untrustworthy, ignorant and simple, characterizations that still persist today despite evidence to the contrary. Media representations also tend to reflect the dominant ideology of the time and era, presenting the event in a way that they consider the general public would feel about it. For example, the Indian film industry has regularly portrayed sexual violence in their films, with a sizable amount of this perpetrated by the hero, as evidenced in a study done by Oliver & Ramasubramianian (Carter & Weaver, 2006:218). The incidence of sexual violence against women is common in India, as it tends to be in “societies that have male-dominated ideologies and a history of violence” (Carter & Weaver, 2006:210), and as such this is reflected in the media. With men regularly considered the dominant person in a relationship on the Indian subcontinent, the films reflect this portrayal leading to feminist scholars particularly concerned that “popular films in India too often portray women in stereotypical roles of subordination – accepting sexual violence as a normal part of relationships with men (Dasgupta & Hedge, 1988:209). The consumption of numerous instances of this violence on women has led to it becoming a minor deal, thus desensitizing the recipient. The way the media represents the women, whereupon the woman is attacked yet still accepts the perpetrator into her life, leads to a lack of sympathy for the victim as it is something that is expected to happen. We shall now use a case study to examine this theory.

Chapter 2: Case Study

 After analysis and understanding the wide variety of representational theory, it is time to apply a specific case study to the theory and evaluate how concise the theory actually is. The case chosen, as outlined in the introduction above, is the Jack the Ripper case of 1888, a case inundated with newspaper reportage throughout the prevailing century since, allowing evidence to be gathered without too much difficulty, thus allowing the results to be more concise. Jack the Ripper was a killer during a time where the East End was a poverty-stricken slum. Jacob Adler, a noted actor of the time would once state: “Never in Russia, never later in the worst slums of New York, were we to see such poverty as in the London of the 1880s” (Adler, 1999:232).

In such an area, the cesspool of British Victorian society, murders were not a rare occurrence. Six months before the first of the Ripper’s ‘canonical’ killings, prostitute Emma Smith was viciously murdered by three unidentified ruffians in Whitechapel, and three weeks before the first of the Ripper’s victims Martha Tabram was found stabbed 39-times, once again by an unidentified assailant (Evans & Skinner, 2001:2). Despite the deaths, the media and its reporting did not accord any great significance to what was a fairly common occurrence, which makes the future media circus more significant. Beginning with the third murder in Whitechapel that year, the press suddenly abandoned more mediocre political reporting and, at the birth of the new era of sensationalist journalism, adopted the Whitechapel murder’s as their lead story. Despite spreading his five killings over three months, the enterprising reportage of the journalists ensured papers were selling record amounts. “In the wake of Annie Chapman’s murder, the Star’s circulation soared to 261,000 copies a day, then dipped down to 190,000 in mid-September, and rose again to 217,000 during the first week of October, the third murder” (Perry Curtis, 2001:59). During the five-week interval between the ‘double-event’ and the final vicious murder of Mary Kelly the press kept the story alive using their intuition and inventive theories, filling the news with anecdotes, rumours, false reports and conjectures. How they achieved this is through their representative notion of a killer; they created a stalking demon armed with a knife who was unattainable.

“National sensations were comparatively few until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the removal of ‘taxes on knowledge’ made newspapers affordable for the first time to the less privileged – who were particularly sensation hungry” (Diamond, 2003:1). With sensationalism seemingly now selling newspapers by the hundred-thousand, editors subsequently demanded a new ideology from their writers, they demanded crime news take the lead from politics, or with the Conservative papers using crime to enforce political reform. The conservative papers altered their ideology to include the Ripper case, using it to demand drastic reform of Scotland Yard whilst accusing the government of failing to solve the investigation (Perry Curtis, 2001:116). With Whitechapel considered one of the worst slums in the civilized world, an area with no law and no order, rampant with alcoholism and prostitution, the newspapers had been long calling for governmental intervention. They were also infuriated with the lack of police cooperation with their reporting, who kept the newspapers at arm’s length and used this irritation to highlight the lack of police action in their articles (Rumbelow, 1988:72).

With the Ripper killings catching the imagination of the nation and in particular the higher classes and aristocracy, the ideologies of the newspapers changed to shine a light on the poverty of the east-end. The Morning Post of September 12th, 1888 focused on the hideous conditions that underlay the murders, stressing “the daily sins, the nightly agonies, the hourly sorrows that haunt and poison and corrupt the ill-fated tenants in those homes of degradation and disease” (Perry Curtis, 2001:134). The brutal murders had helped to tear away the veil hiding the misery of tens of thousands of people in the richest city of the world, finally supplying the press with the ammunition needed to appeal to the higher classes for reform. Perry Curtis (2001:51) further states that journalists use news of criminal or deviant behaviour to convince readers that a serious problem afflicts society. The press implemented Van Dijk’s ideological square theory of “you/us” and “them”, reporting of the degradation of the lower classes (them) to the middle/higher classes (us/you) in their push for economical reform. Although the newspapers’ push for reform was not entirely successful, it did help to publicise the disgraceful conditions of supposedly the ‘greatest city in the world’ and slowly but surely the conditions were improved. Fowler (1991) stated that the press did not simply provide hard facts, but ideas and the media provided the idea that an evil ghoul was in Whitechapel, partially created through the  reality of murders and their own agenda of reform.

A principle way they created the mystery surrounding a killer was through the discourse they used in their work. As stated earlier, Hall (1997:5) considers the collective usage of words to create an idea that is then consumed by the reader. Richardson (2007:47) pertains that the use of nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs all help to create meanings to the text, to influence, persuade and offer ideological views about the subject, all evident within the reportage of Ripper journalists. The first murder report in the August 10th London Times [5] was fairly innocuous as the series of murder’s were not yet evident, restricted to an impersonal (terms such as ‘the deceased’ and ‘life extinct’) reference to the woman, whilst containing a small element of mystery with the statement “Witnesses saw no footmarks on the staircase, nor did he find a knife or other weapon” . The second murder however began to garner some attention from the media as it was a second killing in quick succession as well as the morbidity involved in the murder. With the adjective “another” in the title of “Another Whitechapel Murder” from the September 1st edition of the Times [6], the journalists appear to attempt to create a small degree of panic amongst the reader, captivating the recipient. They additionally inundate the article with many place-names including “Buck’s Row, Whitechapel”, “the church and at the corner of Osbourne Street” and “Windsworth Common”. The references to such places helps add familiarity to the reader, making them aware that this murder is in places they are likely to have heard about or even frequented. The numerous references to these places had the ulterior motive of informing the higher classes and aristocracy of where exactly these horrific murder’s were taking place, enforcing the media’s ideology of attracting attention on the slums of the east end of London. With a secondary ideology of selling newspapers through reporting of crude events, various adjectives are in use in the article which began to shape the killer’s persona, such as “murder of the foulest kind” and “with what motive is at present a complete mystery”, reflecting Fowler’s (1991:4) observation that the media shape rather than mirror the world. The media had begun to create a myth. The Victorians took a morbid interest in the injuries sustained by their unfortunate contemporaries, Perry Curtis (2001:77) reasoning that “graphic gore attracted readers of all ages and both sexes”. This need for gore and images of violence had helped propel the newspaper industry into the sensationalist era and helped fuel the dramatic rise in paper circulations.

The Ripper reportage contained vast amounts of descriptive prose on the mutilations suffered by the victims, subsequently selling newspapers and feeding the publics lust for blood whilst creating a ‘bogeyman’ figure. With each passing murder, the newspaper reportage increased in quantity and description, culminating in the report after the death of the final victim Mary Kelly. The report in the London Times on November 10th, 1888 [7] was the culmination of the reportage, particularly with the gruesomeness attached to the article, a by-product of entertaining the reader whilst adding to the infamy of the killer. The introductory paragraph helps link the other killings to this one, adding to the growing myth around the murderer – “The character of the mutilations leaves very little doubt that the murderer in this instance is the same person who has committed the previous ones, with which the public are fully acquainted” [7]. The article partially states “her throat had been cut from ear to ear” as well as “the kidneys and heart had also been removed from the body, and placed on the table by the side of the breasts. The liver had likewise been removed and laid on the right thigh”. This form of detailed grotesque reporting was shifting newspapers in record amounts and pushed the papers to cover their papers with any form of reporting about the case, from editorials and articles to interviews and letters.

The press exploited the murders to the fullest extent. Perry Curtis (2001:200) states that the most obvious feature of Ripper news was the “sheer volume of space assigned to the slayings, the inquests, and the police investigations”.  All the column inches had the purpose of using descriptive discourse to represent the killer as an evil character. Despite the obvious observation that the killer was a person with a ruthless streak, the press appeared to overdo the reporting and cast the killer almost as the devil reincarnate, thus re-presenting a savage, although not particularly unique, murderer. Regular verbs and adjectives were used in reference to the killer included “a most revolting and fiendish character” [7] and “the man must have been a perfect savage” [6] whilst commonly using adjectives such as “fiend”, “ghoul”, “monster” and “assassin”. When the first of the infamous stream of letters was published, the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ was thus gleefully used by the media around which they built their media personality. Despite the actual killer not strictly being a stereotype as he is unknown, it is true that the murdered was used to convey a set of ideological values as evidenced by Lacey (1998:139). With the press regularly representing the killer as a fiendish character and a ghoul, with the name Jack the Ripper they began to characterise the unknown killer and inadvertently created a degree of infamy around the event. The reporting regularly stated the killer wore “a black moustache, a black silk hat, a black coat” [7]. This view, regularly reported over the autumn gave rise to an idea of what the killer was like and was judged by some to be a stereotypical view of a Jewish man at the time, who where amongst the prominent suspects at the time. The media “conjured up a generic male suspect – dark-complexioned, black-bearded, black-coated, and ‘foreign-looking’ – in short a stereotypical Jew living in the East End” (Perry Curtis, 2001:16). As Lacey (1998:139) believes that black people’s struggle with racism today is down to centuries-old ideas about their characteristics, fitting in with the ideological square theory about positive notations for ‘us’ and negative for ‘them’, the murderer’s burgeoning characterisation in the press of the day has over the intervening century seemingly become fact, indeed, it has attained infamy. Such modern films as the Scream series, an unidentified slasher with a knife in a draping black costume, achieved success in the mid-90’s as has the whole ‘whodunit’ industry, all of which can be attributed to the original representation, and thus creation of the character through reporting designed to sell newspapers. Despite the last killing considered to be in November 1888, the next few years every murder in the east end was an attempt by the press to link to the Ripper and squeeze a few more sales from the case (Perry Curtis, 2001:210). This would actually continue to the present day, the ‘brand name’ considered a money-maker in the industry.

An interesting development of the representation of the murders was that in the future, serial killers were subsequently afforded persona’s if they as yet unidentified, famous ones include the Son of Sam and the Boston Strangler. A current event in the British press is the ‘Ipswich Ripper’, which despite this killer having never ‘ripped’ or stabbed his victims, the obvious link has been perpetrated with newspaper sales and familiarity the editorial ideology behind it (BBC, 2006).

A curious observation of representation and the effects of it in this case is the subsequent modern portrayal of the Ripper as a hero-villain, evidenced by the continuous stream of books and studies as well as the growing memorabilia around what is critically a murderer. This sort of representation has not been afforded such a killer as Ian Huntley, who is portrayed as a beast. This could be down to the cross-representation of their victims. Huntley victims were represented as two happy and loving ten year old girls innocently lured to their deaths by the evil Huntley (BBC, 2002). The Ripper victims however were prostitutes, which at the time were an undesirable class at the bottom of London’s society, and the paper’s stereotypically represented them as such. Regularly using the adjective “unfortunate” [7] before woman, they were ensuring that readers were aware that these were not women of class, and as such sympathy was not rendered an emotion when reading. This led to growth of the Ripper phenomenon without attention being diverted away to emotional attachments to the women. The women’s reputations were regularly tarnished with quotes such as “addicted to drink”, “living an immoral life” and “walking the streets”, an euphemism for prostitution. Such representations may have indicted a sense of misogyny that the journalists were trying to convey to the chiefly male readership. As understood earlier, this could be a portrayal of a male-dominated ideology in a male-dominated society which the Victorian Era was (Carter & Weaver, 2006:210). As with the Indian Film Industry, the media reported the killings in a way they felt the blood-lusting public with no sympathy or respect for the prostitutes would want. It was purely factual based, how they were killed and who they were. There were no sympathetic feelings or grief over the death or the effects for the victim’s family.

As stated earlier, the press, due to restrictions such as the particular editorial structure of each paper, is partially forced to alter its writing style and can thus alter the reality of the situation. The Ripper case was so extravagantly reported that reality may have become blurred with ideology. Perry Curtis (2001:266) considers that the popular image of Jack the Ripper is of a killer wearing a top hat and black coat, seamlessly wandering in and out of Whitechapel leaving behind a mutilated prostitute. The press also regularly changed its mind on the ethnicity of the killer from Jew to eastern European or a gang of English ruffians. All of this could have had a bearing on the outcome of the case, with their interruption and critical analysis of police failures all contributing to the infamy of the unknown killer.  Mackinnon (2001:24) states that there are many differences and contradictions between life as shown in the media and the lives lived by the majority of people and with the plethora of newspaper reporting, the reality of the killer could be much different from the historical perception.

Conclusion

Jack the Ripper has become a staple of British history, enshrouded in mystery, myth and folklore throughout the 119 passing years. The killer has reached such notoriety that he was named in a BBC poll as the ‘worst Briton of all time’ (BBC, 2005). A simple search on renowned online bookstore Amazon.com for Jack the Ripper supplies 4,707 books [8] whilst a further indication of the killer’s infamy is that a search on Google.com returns 1,330,000 results. This is roughly half the results of arguably one of the world’s most famous faces of the modern age, David Beckham [9]. In 2001, the Ripper was further immortalised in a big budget Hollywood movie “From Hell”, introducing him to a newer generation of people.

The plethora of other form of mediums through which the Ripper name continues to survive includes the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ waxwork at Madame Tussauds, the number of memorabilia websites and even daily Ghost Walks around Whitechapel to take in the scene’s of the murders for yourself. Jack the Ripper continues to be a money-making brand name for all involved and continues to be as interesting as ever for so-called ‘Ripperologists’. It is debateable however just how notorious this case would be without the extensive media involvement. Without the way the media covered the five murders, which whilst still brutal were not an isolated occurrence of Victorian Britain, Jack the Ripper would merely be a Victorian era killer possibly forgotten within a few years of his attacks or until the next batch of murders was committed in a rough and poverty-stricken East End. The case happened to occur during the rise of the sensationalist tabloid era and with the media particularly displaying displeasure to the government and police about the social and economical afflictions with a poverty-stricken East End, the case provided a convenient basis for their action. The Jack the Ripper phenomenon does not appear to be slowing down soon, a testament to the true power the media holds. As Ryder (2006) states: “The press was also partly responsible for creating many myths surrounding the Ripper and ended up turning a sad killer of women into a ‘bogeyman’, who has now become one of the most romantic figures in history”

Bibliography

Books

Adler, J., (1999) Jacob Adler, A Life on the Stage: A Memoir New York, Knopf

Berger, A,A., (2006) Media and Communication Research Methods: An

            Introduction to Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches London SAGE

Publications

Boyce, G., (1978) Newspaper History London Constable Publishers

Bradley, P., (2002) The Advanced Internet Searcher’s Handbook, 2nd Edition.

London Library Association Publishing,

Branston, G., & Stafford, R., (2006) The Media Student’s Book, 4th Edition

            New York Routledge

Carter, C., & Weaver, C, K., (2006) Issues in Cultural and Media: Violence and

            the Media Maidenhead Open University

Curran, J., (2002) Media and Power Oxon Routledge Publishing

Dasgupta S. D., & Hedge, R.S, (1988) Women in Indian Society: A Reader New

Delhi, India Sage

Diamond, M., (2003) Victorian Sensation: Or the Spectacular, the Shocking and

            the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain London Anthem Press

 Dominick, J, R., & Wimmer, R, D., (2006) Mass Media Research: An Introduction

 8th Edition, London Thomson Learning

Du Gay, P., Hall, S., Janes, L., Mackay, H., and Negus, K., (1997) Doing Cultural

            Studies: the case of the Sony Walkman, London SAGE Publications,

Eldridge, J., Kitzinger, J., Williams, K., (2005) The Mass Media & Power in

 Modern Britain Oxford Publishing

Evans, S., & Skinner, K., ( 2001) Jack the Ripper: Letters From Hell

Gloucestershire Sutton Publishing

Fowler, R., (1991) Language in the News, Discourse and Ideology in the Press

            London Routledge

Hall, S., (1992) Formations of Modernity Cambridge Polity Press

Hall, S., Hobson, D., Lowe, A., & Willis, P., (1996) Culture, Media, Language

            London Routledge

Hall, S., (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying

            Practices London SAGE Publications

Hock, R., (1999) The Extreme Searcher’s Guide to Web Search Engines; A

 Handbook for the Serious Searcher  New Jersey CyberAge Books

Jewkes, Y., (2006) Media & Crime; Key Approaches to Criminology London

SAGE Publications

Lacey, N., (1998) Image and Representation: Key Concepts in Media Studies

            London MacMillan Press

Lacey, N., (2000) Narrative and Genre: Key Concepts in Media Studies London

 MacMillan Press

MacKinnon, K., (2003) Representing Men: Maleness and Masculinity in the

Media New York Arnold Publishers

Marr, A., (2004) My Trade, A Short History of British Journalism London MacMillan Press

Perry Curtis Jr, L., (2001) Jack the Ripper & the London Press New York Yale University

Rumbelow, D., (1988) Jack The Ripper: The Complete Casebook Chicago McGraw-Hill

Simpson, J.A. & Weiner, E.S.C., (1989) The Oxford English Dictionary 2nd

            Edition, Volume XIII Quemadro-Roaver Oxford Clarendon Press

Stebbins, L.F., (2006) Student Guide to Research in the Digital Age: How to

            Locate and Evaluate Information Sources Westport

Connecticut Libraries Unlimited

Street, J., (2001) Mass Media, Politics and Democracy New York, Palgrave

Verhelst, T., (1990) No Life Without Roots, London, Zed Books

White, B., (2003) Dissertation Skills Continuum Books

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jack the Ripper Conference 2010 – A Review

As someone who has always cultivated his Jack the Ripper interest in the privacy of my own home, I suppose it can be said that I had a feeling of trepidation and a sense of insecurity as I attended my first ever Conference. Attended by other newcomers as well as a well-known community of Ripperologists, I booked the conference months in advance on a whim knowing that I could change my mind at any time. The conference was booked through http://www.ripperconference.com and cost a decent £50

Whilst I thought I would change my mind at some point, the recent additions of other similar-minded people on Facebook began to increase my excitement about the meeting as I discussed the matter with them. And I feel I made the right decision in attending, meeting these same people as well as learning much more specific issues around the case. As always, when I come to London I tend to mix visiting my university friend and the inevitable beers that follow with my urge to visit Jack the Ripper or Tudor related locations. Having woken up very hungover on the Saturday morning it was a struggle making it across London to the East End with the constant irritation and uncertainty that is the Tube. Finally reaching Aldgate East I made my way through the area with the help of Google Maps on my phone finally reaching the King’s Stores pub on Widegate Street just after ten. Thankfully the start time was put off until 10:30 allowing me to slide in quietly and take my seat at the back without attracting too much attention to my arrival. Having recognised a few faces from Facebook such as Jon Rees, Mike Covell, Trevor Bond and Kate Bradshaw, I nevertheless felt a bit self conscious and refrained from making a nuisance of myself by blurting out any comments I had. At least until later!

The introductions and welcomes were handled by Colin Cobb, a funny Northern Irish gentleman who quickly put everyone at ease from the start. John Bennett was the first speaker proper, delivering a very detailed presentation about the housing situation in the Whitechapel area of the late Victorian Era, relevant to the case with regards to how the victims lived. Entitled “The Doss Houses of the Rookery”, the 45-minute presentation was interesting and a statement he made about the possibility of part of these Doss Houses still surviving today led to a small jaunt later in the day to check it out in person.

With a coffee break that was much needed to combat the hangover I took the time introduce myself in more detail Jon, Mike and a few others whom I was coming across for the first time. The next presentation was from Gareth Williams who is also from South Wales, in nearby Neath. The talk was entitled “Severin Klosowski” and as the name suggests was focused on the man many feel is a worthy candidate as the possible perpetrator of the killings. A very detailed speech once again with evidence to back up the theories from census’ records and the like. I feel slightly more drawn to Klosowski more than other candidates for reasons unknown to myself so I found my self very into the talk. With a buffet break of fresh sandwiches and chips as well as the aforementioned jaunt into deepest Whitechapel to view a possible relic of Ripper-era Doss Houses over, the next speaker was Mike Covell who was presenting a talk on “the Hull Connection”, amazingly done from the top of his head rather than in written speech form.

As someone with no connections whatsoever to Hull or even a passing interest in that part of the world outside of what my beloved Swans do in the football up there, I was surprised at how into the topic I became, due in no part to Mike’s obvious passion for his hometown which is a trait I strongly recognise in myself to a point it almost becomes a character flaw in me. Whilst some links were rather tenuous, the most important ones had strong connections and is definitely something that Mike has worked hard on to expose. I should also thank Mike on behalf of everyone for giving us the informative talk in spite of terrible personal circumstances.

The final talk was also something I was looking forward to, knowing Trevor Bond’s background in raising funds for a memorial plaque for the subject of his talk, Frances Coles. With such a passion for this lady it was clear this would be an interesting talk and the West Ham fan didn’t let us down, mixing his speech with an inflextion of personality that came over well. Whether or not she was a victim of the Ripper is debatable but that is the reason we are all attending these seminars in the first place, to cultivate a greater understanding on the peripheral aspects to the case.

With the raffle done and the auction raising surprising amounts for Trevor’s appeal, it was time for yet more socialising with various people such as Mickey Mayhew, Adam Wood and other people as well as the aforementioned. The topics? Mainly football and alcohol. All in all a fantastic day that was not boring or dull in the slightest but informative, insightful and a great taster for future events that will be firmly added to my Blackberry Calender.

Special thanks to all who attended, spoke to me and especially to Adam Wood for organising the event in the first place. Also thanks to Suzi Hanney and Andrew Firth who’s photo’s I’ve secretly stolen! Until next year…

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Griffith Family of Talley…A 250-Year Chronicle.

Late 18th century Wales was a period of relative calm when contrasted with the continuous upheavals of previous generations. The fall of the Tudor Dynasty, Civil War, the continuous changing of monarchs with different religions causing dissent in the Kingdom, it was a hectic era. Importantly for the peace of the natives, Welsh revolt against the English crown had largely subsided and the people went about their daily lives.

A significant change in the country during that this period was the Welsh Methodist Revival which prompted great religious and social changes. Traced back to the religious conversion of Howell Harris in 1735, he began a movement of non-conformism along with David Rowland and the noted poet William Williams Pantycelyn. They were thus the de facto founders of the Presbyterian Church in Wales, which would eventually disestablish itself from the state-supported Church of England in 1851. This branch of Methodism grew quickly in the northern Carmarthenshire area where the founders were so influential with their preaching, which were emotional outbursts based on the gospels and enthusiastic hymn singing.

It was in 1770 that Peter Williams published the first Welsh bible to be printed in Wales, which became immensely popular in the Carmarthenshire area where it was published. Most families had a copy and it helped to keep the area away from becoming anglicized.  The chapels also become that social hub for the communities, a gathering place for the villagers to come together and pray.

The Methodist revival claimed to preach to the heart of its followers rather than the reasoning of the mind, it encouraged the people to concentrate on saving their souls from eternal damnation. Customary pastimes, amusements and interests were regarded as devilish traps, painting a picture of a serious society overburdened with a continuous sense of sin and guilt. The Methodist’s considered human existence only as a preparation for death and the after world, the salvation of the soul. It was a dull and strict ideology.

It was with this in the background and during the time of King George III that William Griffiths lived, residing and operating the Tre-Wern farm between Talley and Llansadwrn. The rolling hills and vast fields of the Cothi Valley provided ample fields for such men as William to set up their enterprise. Talley or Tal-y-llychau, which aptly means “heads of the lakes”, is a village roughly 7 and a half miles from the town Llandeilo in the heart of Carmarthenshire, particularly noted for the medieval ruins of the once majestic Talley Abbey.

The Abbey was unique when it was constructed, in being the only one of its kind to be constructed for the monastic order of the Premonstratensians. It was also noted for being the place where the Lord Rhys Ap Gruffydd, the historic Welsh prince, settled in the 1180’s. His great-grandson Rhys Fychan would be buried in the grounds in 1271. With Henry VIII on the throne during the 16th Century, his spectacular fallout with the Vatican led to the English crown seceding from the Holy Roman church. The temperamental and supremely powerful ruler instructed his close ally Thomas Cromwell to destroy the famous Abbey’s, the legacy of this ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ evident on the historic and picturesque site next to the Talley lakes.

An entry in the “Topographical Dictionary of Wales”, written in 1844 by an S. Lewis suggests that the small community had over a thousand residents surrounding the two impressing lakes that gave the place its name. Lewis goes on to describe the parish as a “continued succession of hill and dale, sideland and mountain top, and is rather woody”, picturing a rural scene ideal for agriculture and farming, much like today without the ease and quickness of modern transportation.

The two lakes next to the abbey are just as spectacular as any to be found in South Wales, but are often overlooked in favour of the more well-known bodies of water that are often more accessible to tourists. The lakes used to be used for fish farming to support the monks. After the aforementioned dissolution, the stones from the ruined Abbey were used to build much of the present village including the chapel that now resides next to the historic structure.

Born in Llandeilo in 1772, William Griffiths spent the majority of his life tending to his Tre-Wern farm, on the vast green landscape between Talley and nearby Llansadwrn. The farm was around 20 acres and it was here that he not only grew his crops and worked, but also where he raised his family. William married a local girl named Anne and by 1801 she gave birth to their daughter in Llandeilo, the nearest town. They named the child Sarah.

Anne was born to Margaret and Walter Thomas and was the granddaughter of Margaret John. Margaret John seemingly married twice, first to David James in nearby Caio in 1735 from which their daughter was born and after her husband’s death in circa 1743 she remarried. Margaret John, Davies and then finally Thomas passed away in 1797 at the age of 77 and is buried in Llansadwrn church. Similar to her grandmother, Anne Griffiths lived until she reached 73, a respectful age for the time, dying on April 17th, 1849. She was laid to rest at the picturesque Talley church, in a graveyard sandwiched between the lakes and the abbey. Reaching the twilight of his long life, the widower William left Tre-Wern and went to live with his daughter and her husband, who were by this time raising their own family.

Born at the beginning of the century in Llandeilo, Sarah Griffiths grew up with her parents at their Tre-Wern farm helping out the family business whilst planning for her own future as a wife and a mother. Her teenage years would have been spent learning of her mother how to create a home for when she got married. Lessons would have been in cooking, housework and vital skills of the time such as knitting stockings or basket weaving, all of which would contribute to the survival of the household. In some cases, the woman would sell these products to supplement the husband’s income to further provide food. Women would also join in the farm work, helping out of the primitive wooden ploughs or even riding on the horses and other farm animals to help sort out the crops.

A report in 1776 by a person who was visiting Carmarthenshire showed that the people of the Llandeilofawr area lived on a diet of barley or oaten bread and cheese, with meat maybe once a week. It wouldn’t be until a couple of decades later that potatoes would become a dietary mainstay for the poor working classes, an easy vegetable that could be grown in any form of soil.

At the end of the 18th century the earnings of small farmers remained very low, especially considering the work on the fields tended to be long and arduous. Most days were from 6am to 6pm in the warm summer months and then from dawn to dusk in the brisk and chilly winter. The typical housing conditions were also poor, even amongst the better class of farmers. Many of the cottages the families resided in often consisted of single rooms with mud walls, unpaved floors and thatched roofs.

After meeting and marrying a local carpenter from the nearby hamlet of Laine, Sarah settled down and began a busy decade of raising her children.  Her husband David Davies was born in 1798 and initially kept up his previous job as a carpenter, putting the great natural resources to use and making everyday items such as chairs and tables. Some time between 1841 and 1851, David came into the possession of 60 acres of farmland. Llwyncelyn, as the farm was known, stayed in the family for over a century, serving as the home for over three generations. It is in fact still a working farm 150 years later. Their children had already been born by the time David moved his wife and offspring to the farm, undoubtedly a time of excitement for the young ones as moves often tend to be. Their eldest child, William Davies, was born 1827, soon followed by Hannah in 1834, Joshua in 1838 and Elizabeth in 1839.

The first four decades of the century, 1800-1840, were tough years for the people of Carmarthenshire. The growth of the population increased competition for farms and agricultural employment. The wages were low, food prices were high and the rents were also rising uncontrollably. A succession of bad harvests, importation of foreign corn, a slump in the overall price of livestock and a number of disastrous floods had left many of the regions farmers on the verge of destitution and hopelessly bankrupt. With food already scare, the country finally erupted into chaos when new tollbooths were built on the roads crisscrossing the county. The tolls were charging exorbitant rates for the farmers to pass daily, rates that just weren’t feasible during these financial tough times. The riots against the booths soon erupted into a nationwide rebellion, and went down in history as the ‘Rebecca Riots’.

The middle of the century proved turbulent and joyous for the Davies family at Llwyncelyn, with the children growing up and branching out into lives of their own. Joshua got married to Rachel, a woman the same age as him who was a daughter of the Richards family of Cymbyr farm and who would have had a similar upbringing to her new husband. Together they had three children; Mary, Elizabeth and Rachel, who took her name after her mother. Joshua’s sister Elizabeth also met and married a person known in the local community, David Thomas from Llansadwrn. As her parents drifted into old age, she took over the everyday running of the family premises, playing the dutiful wife role as well as giving birth multiple times.

Tragedy struck in the first half of 1866, when the elderly family patriarch William Griffiths passed away on May 1st.  He lived to the remarkable age of 95, especially when taking into account the limitations of medicine available to the poor working classes in the early Victorian age. He was laid to rest at Talley Church and next to his wife Anne.

His granddaughter Elizabeth was pregnant during his traumatic episode and Sarah Thomas was eventually born on the 27th October 1866. Death wasn’t far away however, David Davies passing away just two and a half weeks after the birth of his granddaughter Sarah. He died on November 15th aged 68. He would also be buried at the local Talley Church, not far from his in-law’s. It would prove to be a dismal end to an emotional rollercoaster of an autumn.

Only a few years later the Thomas and Griffith’s were again back at the Talley Church they had frequented so often, this time laying to rest William Davies. He had passed away during the night of October 13th, 1870, almost four years later than his father and the grandfather for whom he was named after. He would not however reach the age his resilient ancestor did, leaving the world aged only 43.

During this up and down period, Elizabeth overcame the triple blow of losing her grandfather, father and brother to successfully mother a brood of children with her partner David. After the birth of their first child Sarah, a year later she celebrated her first son Benjamin Thomas (1867), rapidly followed by John (1869) and David (1870), who was named for both his father and grandfather, the two men who meant the most in his mother’s life.

After the birth of three strong boys in a row, Elizabeth again confounded the odds by giving birth to four girls successively. Jane Thomas was born in 1872, Anne in 1874, Eliza (Lizzie) in 1876 and the youngest of eight Mary in 1881, when Elizabeth was 42 years old. Like the rest of their ancestors, the children were born in Talley, the lack of capable travel not allowing a pregnant mother to travel too far from the home to give birth.

Elizabeth Thomas’ life was punctuated by the highs of giving birth to a number of children and the lows of losing a host of her loved ones prematurely. In her mid 40’s she encountered the terror of every mother, her youngest daughter Mary, the baby of the family, dying at the tragic age of just 6 years old. It was April 20th 1886. A heartbroken Elizabeth lived for another 18 years, passing away in the cusp of a new century on the 22nd September, 1904. She was aged 65 and was survived by the rest of her children, a small mercy in a lifetime defined by the deaths of those closest to her.

37 at the time of her mother’s death, Sarah had already left the family farm at Llwyncelyn, Talley to set up her own home with her husband and children. Her husband was a man originally from Pembrokeshire rather than the Talley are previous generations had tended to marry from, highlighting the increasing ease of travel as the 20th century began. John Edwards was born in 1872 and was around 6 years younger than his wife. His father was allegedly Thomas Evans, the name that would appear on his marriage certificate, suggesting John was in fact an illegitimate son. Illegitimacy was a taboo subject at the time of John’s birth and would remain so in the eyes of the law until the Legitimacy Act was passed in 1926 allowing bastard son’s to inherit equally from their parents. This may have been a stigma for the young John growing up and made his productive years troublesome. It could also have played a role, along with job opportunities, in him relocating from the area of his birth.

At the time of his betrothal John was also employed at a farm, ideal considering his marriage into a family of proficient farmers. Having moved from the coastal county of Pembrokeshire further inland and into the Pontardawe area, John was working at Nantygaseg Farm in Cwmgors, employed as an agricultural labourer. This would have been tough strenuous work but although the pay was low-wage, the job was important for John to provide for his burgeoning family. Soon after their marriage the first child was born, Sarah naming the child Elizabeth in honour of her mother and a pleasant lasting memory for the woman who would pass away a short while later.

The 27th June, 1901 also brought the couple their first son, continuing a family tradition from the maternal side of the family by naming him David Robert. Mary soon followed in 1906 and the youngest child Tom Emrys two years later completed the Edwards family.

In the same tragic way of her mother, Sarah would also suffer the heart wrenching pain of losing not one, but two children whilst they were still young. Mary passed away in 1912 aged only 6, whilst Elizabeth managed to reach adulthood and indeed have two surviving children and a husband. She was only 21 when she died from tuberculosis. Before her untimely death she married Thomas Dawkins Williams and had two children, Sally and William John, whilst a third continued the horrible family curse and died whilst still in infancy.

Only a short time after her children’s births, and indeed it was whilst they were still babies Elizabeth contracted the contagious lung disease of TB. Despite the BCG vaccine having been recently discovered it would be another 20 years before it would be put into production. Even then it would be hard to get for the lower classes. In the early years of the 20th century, Britain was suffering from a TB pandemic, a disease that was known to be particularly virulent amongst the working classes straddling the poverty line. It was commonly referred to as the “endemic disease of the poor”. It was the middle of this hysterical panic that Elizabeth succumbed to the symptoms of the horrible disease, and due to the economy of the time was tragically buried in a pauper’s grave in Cwmllynfell Chapel.

Elizabeth’s eldest son, David Robert, married when he was 35, reasonably late compared to the tradition at the time. He was wed to Catherine Matilda Jane, a daughter of the George family from Solva, Pembrokeshire. The George’s had operated a woolen mill at Porth-Y-Rhaw on the coast since the middle of the 19th century, which would remain in business until the death of Matilda’s father in 1955.

David Robert, known popularly as Bob and his wife Tilly were wed on the 30th October 1936 when both bride and groom were in their mid-30’s. They would suffer two painful losses in their first four years of marriages, their daughters Mair and Mary dying shortly after their births, in 1938 and 1940 respectively.  During the war Tilly finally gave birth to two children who would survive their infant years; Grace was born in 1942 and followed two years later by Muriel, by which time she was already 43 years old.

Bob originally spend his early years, much like the rest of south Wales, underground working the treacherous mines. It was hazardous conditions with a constant worry of disaster. A former churchwarden, Bob was also for many years branch and benevolent secretary of the British Legion and was thus granted his life membership certificate in 1944. As he got older he switched careers, becoming a locally respect member of his community as a Justice of the Peace. He was first elected to Llandeilo Rural council in 1946, serving over 25 years and becoming the third in seniority on the council.  He was also chairman of the council in 1957-58 and also became chairman of the council’s rent arrears committee, before being placed on the Commission of Peace for the county of Carmarthenshire. Serving in the executive of the Divisional Labour party, Bob had also been secretary of the council’s Labour group for many years as well as secretary of the Brynaman, Cefnbrynbrain and Ystradowen joint wards. After living to see the births of his grandchildren Paul and Catherine Salter by Grace and her husband John, and Gail, Michelle, Gregory and Alethea Davies by Muriel and her husband Randall, Bob passed away on the 8th December 1971. He was 70 years old and was buried in Cwmllynfell, the community he had served well throughout his life.

His living wife Tilly remarkably survived her husband by almost 30 years, spending the twilight of her life surrounded by numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, something she once professed she thought she’d never see. Tilly passed away in a Swansea hospital in October 2000 aged 98 after being admitted originally with a broken hip. She was buried alongside her husband at Cwmllynfell chapel, a place where she had regularly played the organ.

His younger brother Tom Emrys Edwards was born on April 17th, 1908. He was born in the Brynmelyn Cottages which were opposite the colliery high up on the Gwryd mountain. Not enamoured with school, Tom Emrys would often miss school in order to work on the farm by his parent’s new residence. The farm, on the Rhosfa area just outside Rhosaman, was a more pleasurable venue for the young boy rather than the stifling surroundings of the classroom although he never lost his capability for maths and numbers. Upon reaching adulthood, he began working at the Bryn Enllys colliery in nearby Ystradowen, employed as a foreman on the coalface. Respected by his colleagues, he helped out a great number of them from exploitation by using his natural ability for mathematical sums by calculating the amount of bonuses each individual was due from the owners. Many workmates often praised his helpful attitude for ensuring they took home a decent wage to support their families. Tom Emrys was also present during the 1926 strike that occurred in Fishguard, working for the only time in his life to that point away from the coalface as a labourer. After falling foul of his bosses concerning his disobedience regarding his stature as the mouth of the workers, Tom Emrys initially worked for a short period in a concrete works before obtaining a role at the Ysgu Colliery, also in Ystradowen. Falling ill, he ended his working life and concentrated on returning to health whilst vacationing in his caravan in Aberaeron for parts of the year.

Having met and married Margaret Moses, Tom Emrys also settled into fatherhood, his wife giving birth to Mary Elizabeth (Bessie) in 1928, Charles Garon and then John Elwyn in 1932. Losing his wife in 1934 at the young age of 28, Tom Emrys lived out his live raising his young family before passing away at the age of 69 on the 21st January, 1978.

Today the original Griffiths family has dispersed and multiplied into numerous small knit family units, each individual in name and location, all linked irrevocably by their common ancestors William and Anne Griffiths. Today the blood and legacies of the Griffith family lives on in the many branches of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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Owain Glyndwr; Relevant or Relic?

Many years ago there lived a man. A simple man of modest noble stock whom resided and toiled away on his North Welsh fields after a career as a soldier in the army of the English King. When a minor dispute erupted over land with his wealthy and more influential neighbour it set in motion events that would consequently end in the name of this man reverberating around his homeland for centuries to come and even named Welshman of the Millennium.

Owain ap Gruffydd (popularly known as Glyndwr) remains a patriotic hero to the people of Wales on par with William Wallace of Scotland or Richard the Lionheart of England. It may be pondered however, how does this man remain so relevant and revered within the nation he so valiantly fought for when ultimately his uprising was eventually crushed and left nothing more than exuberant tales that have passed down generation to generation?

To understand the celebration of Glyndwr is to understand Wales herself. The mentality and attitude of the man remains rooted in his nation’s soul many centuries after the noble statesman and warrior vanished. The Welsh have stereotypically been portrayed as a romantic, passionate people learned in the arts of poetry, prose and song. Myths, mysteries and legends have regularly been a part of Welsh culture for as long as man has put ink to parchment and even longer via word of mouth. One only needs to point to the enduring legacy and popularity of stories such as Y Mab Darogan and King Arthur to further this point.

With this penchant for glorious reliving of past events it is of no surprise to see Owain’s bloody, barbaric wars resurrected in the minds of his people as the tale of a private man pushed to the brink in the face of an overwhelmingly oppressive English crown has a Robin Hood-like appeal. When you also consider Owain’s descendancy from the venerated and historic Welsh royal families it is of no wonder that he has been transformed into a medieval action hero.

But what does any of this have to do with Wales today? The feeling of ‘Welshness’ and ever-increasing nationalism has been growing as each new generation recovers from the eradication of the language, culture and identity by the Victorians. The Welsh language, once under serious threat of extinction, is enjoying a resurgence and more school children than ever are learning the lapsed language of their forefathers.

Support for Welsh home rule and even independence is continuously rising throughout the nation although still a long way from a viable reality. One major step was taken towards the possibility of realising Owain’s vision in 1999 when the Welsh Assembly was opened just one year before the 600th Anniversary of Glyndwr’s rebellion. In a nod towards the man who gallantly campaigned for a similar establishment in tougher times the new building that houses the Assembly is officially named the “Senedd” in an echo of the moniker given to the court that Glyndwr himself held when he proclaimed himself Prince of Wales in 1404.

Naturally, the 600th anniversary of this occasion once again helped thrust the warrior back into Welsh minds, a plethora of events, statues and memorabilia being unravelled across the nation. The Welsh have always adorned glorious failure particularly in sporting terms, as long as that failure is accompanied by pride and dignity, as encapsulated by the integrity and bravery shown by Glyndwr in his unsuccessful Wars of Independence.

English ‘oppression’ has also been an issue particularly for the rural nationalistic Welsh during the 20th century. Slighted by English immigration, underfunding and even what many term the “raping” of Welsh coal and water, Owain Glyndwr’s fight has led to him again being catapulted to the forefront of Welsh resistance and considered a leader whom took the fight physically to the aggressors rather than weakly submit via the courts and politicians.

It simply appears that everything Wales and her people are known for, namely passion; arts; ferocity; community; love; heart; dignity; modesty and even the negative connotations of glorious failure are all the characteristics that can be attributed to one man who sought to better the lives of his compatriots. Owain ap Gruffydd. Owain VI. Owain Glyndwr.

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