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The Channel Squadron at Aberystwyth

We are delighted to present a guest blog by Dr Brian H Davies.

This photograph (ref. GP/1/69) shows a fleet of warships anchored in Cardigan Bay and is one of a collection of photographs of Aberystwyth, mostly promenade views, taken in the 1890s. Other evidence informs us that it must have been taken in 1896, between the 20 and the 23 June, and there are reasons to believe that the view was captured at about noon on Saturday 20 June.

Warships in Cardigan Bay (GP/1/69)

On Friday 26 June 1896 the Prince of Wales was due to be installed as Chancellor of the new federal University of Wales at a ceremony in Aberystwyth, and it was anticipated that at least two Royal Navy warships would be in attendance in the bay for the royal occasion. They were to be detached from the Channel Squadron as it made its way back from Belfast to its base in Portland, Dorset, after a two-month cruise of northern waters. The Squadron had left Portland on 5 May, had visited Glasgow, Oban, Stornoway (Western Isles), Kirkwall (Orkney) and Belfast, and was due back at Portland on 26th June. The ships detached for the Aberystwyth visit would also call at Cardiff and Swansea on their later return to Portland.

Both the Aberystwyth Observer (AO, 25 June 1896) and Cambrian News (CN, 26 June 1896) carried detailed accounts of the events in Aberystwyth, and expressed surprise that it was not just two vessels, but the entire Channel Squadron that appeared in Cardigan Bay on Saturday 20 June, with the exception of some smaller vessels left at Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) for coaling. The AO reported that

On Saturday morning, about half past eleven, in a slight mist, several ships came into sight … with the aid of glasses nine were counted. … They were preceded by the smallest of their number, which seemed to be taking soundings. They came steadily on until people almost feared that they would run on the Castle rocks, but at a signal the anchors of all the vessels went down simultaneously, with a splash. In the meantime, smoke was seen to the north … and then a three-masted steamer came into sight, and in half-an-hour she had anchored with the other vessels.

The ten warships which anchored off the Castle rocks were actually the pride of the Royal Navy; they were all new ships, none more than seven years old. There were two Majestic Class battleships, the Majestic and the Magnificent, both 16,000 tons and each with a crew of 672. The Majestic was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Lord Walter Kerr who commanded the fleet. The four Royal Sovereign Class battleships, each 14,000 tons with a crew of 670, were the Royal Sovereign, the Empress of India, the Repulse and the Resolution. The three cruisers, the Blake, the Hermione and the Bellona (1st, 2nd and 3rd Class cruisers, respectively) were smaller vessels, from 2,000 to 9,000 tons and manned by crews of 170 to 570. The only three-masted vessel was the Bellona, and the photograph shows its arrival later than the rest of the Squadron, at about noon. The Halcyon was a small 1,000-ton torpedo gunboat with a crew of 120 which acted as the tender for the Squadron, fulfilling tasks such as taking depth soundings. There was thus a considerable tonnage of warships anchored off Aberystwyth, and the CN commented that a warship had not ‘been seen in the bay since the days of the Spanish Armada, when a galleon was wrecked on the Causeway’.

On anchoring in the bay, the ships quickly dressed their flags and fired their enormous guns as a salute for the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne on 20 June 1837. Onshore, the Town Council, which was the harbour authority, hurriedly searched for a royal ensign which by the end of the day flew on the Castle tower. In the afternoon, the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Town Clerk braved a choppy sea to visit the Majestic to pay the town’s respects to the Vice-Admiral. The CN commented that ‘Boarding a man-of-war did not seem as easy to fulfil as their every-day duties’ and according to the AO, ‘they all got a good wetting’. Once the Majestic’s officers understood that it was the Mayor’s party alongside, they were piped aboard with due formality.

Vice-Admiral Lord Walter Kerr regretted that operational matters prevented the officers of the Squadron from accepting the Mayor and Corporation’s invitation to a banquet they were hoping to arrange for the evening of Monday, 22 June. Such operational matters did not prevent groups from the more than 5,000 officers and ratings coming ashore on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, nor did they dampen the hospitality of the Royal Navy in welcoming visits to the ships and tours of their facilities by hundreds of townspeople over the three days. Many of the seamen enjoyed trips inland, Devil’s Bridge being a particular attraction. The Rear-Admiral attended mass at the local Catholic Church on Sunday morning, while on Monday officers of the Repulse and the Royal Sovereign played a cricket match on the College ground, and a band from one of the ships played during the afternoon.

At nightfall on Monday, the whole district was treated to a spectacular display by the Squadron’s searchlights. The CN recorded that ‘So powerful were the rays of the lights that not only the illuminated clouds but the brilliant beams that pierced them could be distinctly seen from Newquay and far away on the countryside. When the lights were turned inland, Plimlymon and the other higher peaks of the range were revealed with marvellous clearness amidst the surrounding gloom’.

Many locals hoped that the whole Squadron would remain for the royal visit on Friday, 26 June, but naval orders required eight of the vessels to leave Aberystwyth at 10 a.m. on Tuesday for return to their Portland base. ‘In consequence the vessels, after starting in two lines, formed into single file, the little Halcyon, the tender of the Squadron, leading (AO)’. The ships ‘steamed grandly away, leaving the Hermione and the Bellona to grace the proceedings on Friday and fire the royal salute (CN)’.

On Friday morning the royal party arrived in Aberystwyth by train from Machynlleth, where they had stayed overnight at Plas Machynlleth, the home of the Dowager Marchioness of Londonderry. The Prince and Princess of Wales, with Princesses Maud and Victoria, travelled from the station in the royal carriage, escorted by mounted cavalry, to the installation pavilion which had been erected in Town Hall Square, at the junction of Portland Street and Queen’s Road. The CN tells us that the colourful scene in the packed pavilion ‘was further heightened by the novel appearance of the officers of the cruisers Hermione and Bellona. … These appeared in naval uniform, resplendent in gold lace. They were accorded a prominent position on the dais’. As the royal party took their seats, ‘the Choir sang ‘The Druids’ Chorus’ which was accentuated by the booming at intervals of the heavy guns on the Hermione and Bellona, firing a royal salute (CN)’. The Prince of Wales was duly installed as Chancellor of the University of Wales and he conferred several honorary degrees, one (DMus) on Alexandra, Princess of Wales, and another (LLD) on Mr W.E. Gladstone, who had served four terms as Prime Minister between 1868 and 1894.

The royal party, the university officials and other guests then went in procession to the College where a company of marines from the Hermione and Bellona formed the guard of honour. ‘The luncheon was laid out in the beautiful and spacious Pier Pavilion, opened that day by the Princess of Wales (CN)’ and afterwards the party processed to the northern end of Victoria Terrace where the newly-built women’s hall of residence was formally opened by Her Royal Highness and named Alexandra Hall.

The royal party later returned to Machynlleth by train for another night at Plas Machynlleth. The next day they returned to London, making a short visit to Cardiff on the Saturday afternoon.  In the meantime, the Royal Navy cruisers left Cardigan Bay for Penarth, where they anchored for the duration of the royal visit to Cardiff. They left Penarth early on Sunday morning, anchoring briefly off the Mumbles so that Swansea could witness their gun salute to mark the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation (28 June 1838). Once this was accomplished, the Hermione and Bellona left Welsh waters to make their way around Land’s End and rejoin the Channel Squadron at its Portland base.

Brian H Davies

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The Abermule disaster: a tragic death in a railway family.

The Abermule disaster was one of Wales’ worst accidents on the railways. It occurred on 26th January 1921 when staff at Abermule station mixed up the ‘tablet’ or token which was passed to the engine crew to show they had safe passage on a single-line section of track. In consequence the 10.25 express train from Aberystwyth collided head-on with a slow train which had left Whitchurch at 10.05 am about 2 ½ miles from Newtown and 1 ½ miles from Abermule.

Both trains were travelling at about 30mph and the impact of 60mph wrecked both engines. The express train consisted of seven carriages. The first two were thrown off the rails, but many passengers escaped serious injury.

Scene of the disaster. Montgomeryshire Express,1 February 1921.

The last three carriages remained on the rails; although one was badly damaged, the final two were almost untouched. The worst damage was to the third and fourth coaches, the force of the impact telescoping them together. The fourth coach, a GWR 8-wheel composite coach, was that destined for Paddington and it was there that most of the fatalities occurred.

The driver and fireman of the stopping train were killed, whilst the driver and fireman of the express threw themselves from the cab at the last moment and although injured, both survived. One of the directors of the Cambrian Railway, Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest also died, as did his valet James Henderson.

Amongst the seventeen fatalities was the passenger guard of the express, 69 year old Edward Shone of Aberystwyth.

A small collection at Ceredigion Archives may have been made by one of the family or a close friend. It consists of cuttings from contemporaneous papers and periodicals, and one more modern article, about the disaster and about Edward Shone in particular.

The narrative of the disaster and subsequent rescue make harrowing reading even 99 years on, for newspapers were not as reticent as they are now in giving details which modern sensibilities would consider unnecessarily distressing and intrusive.

The body of Edward Shone was the first to be removed from the wreckage, identifiable by his ‘uniform and bright buttons’ whilst ‘a sorrowful exclamation’ by the rescue party signalled that they had recognised him. As a passenger guard he had been seated in ‘a little box’ (we might describe it as a cubby hole) in the Paddington coach, probably situated between the first and third class sections of that coach.

Inquest report, Daily Mirror, 3 February 1921

Later, at the inquest, Henry Shone, 3 St George’s Terace,  Llanbadarn identified the body of his father who lived at 4 Stanley Road, Aberystwyth. Edward Shone had lived there for nearly twenty years, moving from Llanidloes in the early years of the century, when the Cambrian and Mid Wales Railway Companies merged.  He and his wife Annie had three daughters and six sons. All of the sons had followed Mr Shone onto the railways, as he in turn had followed his father who had been one of the first guards to serve the Mid-Wales Line.

Henry Shone was a signalman at Aberystwyth, and said he last saw his father as the 10.25 express passed out of Aberystwyth when Edward “in his usual way waved his hand as passing the signal box.”

Edward and Annie and their growing family had lived at Cwmdu, on the edge of Llanidloes  “and in the minds of many townspeople linger happy recollections of the earlier associations of those bygone days. He was 69 years of age but looked far less, his rubicund, good humoured face scarce betraying his almost three score and ten years”. The local paper noted “he has paid many visits to his old familiar scenes at Llanidloes and always spoke of his love for the town which had cherished him for many years.” On coming to Aberystwyth he had named his new home in Stanley Road ‘Idloes House’  

In Llanidloes Mr Shone had been a staunch supporter of the Established (i.e. the Anglican) Church and on transferring to Aberystwyth he joined the congregation of Holy Trinity, where he became an active church member.

The parish magazine for Llanbadarn Fawr, St. Michael and All Angels and Holy Trinity for February 1921 gave their own tribute to Mr Shone.  

Mr Shone was a staunch Churchman and had been for many years a regular worshipper and sidesman at Holy Trinity and also a member of the Parochial Church Council. We can never express adequately our heartfelt sorrow for the irreparable loss which the widow and her family have sustained. It will be a comfort for them to know that the best witness to the high regard and affection with which Mr Shone was held, not only by his comrades, but by all that had had the pleasure of knowing him is the fact that his funeral on Sunday, 30th ult. was one of the largest ever seen in the town. He died in tragic circumstances, but like the soldier on the battlefield, he dies whilst doing his duty. May God uphold and comfort all the family in their sad bereavement.

We must remember that for many readers, the death of the soldier on the battlefield was all too recent a memory in 1921. The funeral was sufficiently impressive to be reported in national newspapers including the Daily Mirror, with three photographs of the procession.

In 1921 Sunday rail services out of Aberystwyth were very limited, with just a morning and evening mail train and it was for this reason that the funeral took place on Sunday, so that fellow railwaymen could attend their comrade’s funeral. A special train conveyed them down the line to Aberystwyth. 

In reporting the funeral the Cambrian News noted that, like his father,

Report of Edward Shone’s funeral, Cambrian News

Mr Shone himself had acted [as a guard] for over forty years, being the first in charge of a train running between Cardiff and Aberystwyth. He came to live at Aberystwyth about twenty years ago, during which time he was guard on the express from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury in the winter months and to London in the summer months. The great respect in which he was held was made manifest last Sunday afternoon when his remains were laid to rest in the cemetery. Hundreds of townspeople attended the funeral. The Cambrian Railway Company was represented by Mr Herbert, one of the directors : Mr James Rees from the Head Office Oswestry; and MR T.K. Vaughan Stationmaster, representing the Superintendent of the line. A special train brought in a large number of railwaymen from different parts of the system….a touching service was held at Holy Trinity Church…from the church to the cemetery the body was borne on the shoulders of railway employees. The chief mourners were Mrs A. Shone, widow, Messrs. William, Edward, Thomas, James, Albert, Harry and Stanley Shone, sons. Misses Polly, Lottie and Sally Shone (daughters). The wreaths…numbered 32 [including from] the Taff Vale Railway, Cardiff, Midland Railway Employees, Swansea Valley, Coast Section of the Cambrian Railway, Aberystwyth Clerical Railway Staff, N.U.R Aberystwyth Branch, Co-operative Society Aberystwyth, & the Church Wardens Holy Trinity

A final insight into Edward Shone’s life is given in his obituary in The Wheatsheaf of February 1921, the newsletter of the Aberystwyth and District Co-operative Society :

Mr Shone who has met his death under the most distressing circumstances in the Cambrian railway disaster on January 26th 1921 between Newtown and Abermule, deprives the Society of one of its oldest and most faithful members.

Mr Shone has been on the Management Committee ever since its foundation in 1915, a member who was always willing and anxious to do whatever he could for the benefit of the Society. Though of a rather quiet disposition he has always had the respect of his colleagues, every one of whom appreciates the worth of his services during the difficult times which the Society has gone through and that he has not been spared to see what appears to be a brighter period in the annals of the Society is very much regretted. That the members themselves had confidence in Mr Shone was proved at the last quarterly meeting when he was re-elected for another term of service.

Mr Shone was 69 years of age and had been in the employ of the Cambrian railways for 50 years. He hailed from Llanidloes some 20 years ago and during the time he has been passenger guard has gained a host of friends by his geniality and many kindnesses to travellers on the Cambrian. Along with his interest and activity in Co-operative circles Mr Shone has been a vigorous trade unionist and has held the position of treasurer to the local branch of the N.U.R for nearly 20 years. Deceased has left a widow, three daughters and six sons (all of these railwaymen).

In studying family and local history it is often difficult or impossible to discover anything of the character of individuals, except when they occupied a place in society where they were the object of public scrutiny, or where they left correspondence or other material which give insights into character. It is also unusual to be able to find much about the different aspects of people’s lives. In this instance, although in such a sad context, the sources available give us a rounded picture of a kind and principled man, who spent his life in different forms of public service, and died tragically in performing a duty he clearly also felt to be a pleasure.

Helen Palmer


The images below show reports of the disaster in the Montgomeryshire Express of 1 February 1921, presented in order in which they appeared on the page (click to enlarge)

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Explore Your Archive 2020: Make us a map!

Four Forests, Llanddewi Brefi (detail)
Cribyn c. 1965 (LIB/3/1)

2020 is a year like no other. And although it is a time we will never forget, it’s still important to keep a record of it in the county archives. One of the silver linings of this very challenging year has been the opportunity to explore our local area in more detail, and we’ve discovered more about the environment, nature and ourselves along the way.

We’d love you to make and send us your maps reflecting your own experience. They can be made in any medium and sent either by post or electronically. They could be drawn, painted, or created as a digital picture. You might even choose to make a film instead, or a sound-map! We will keep the whole collection as a commemoration of our Ceredigion communities in 2020.

What could be in your map?

Embroidery by Beryl Lewis based on a plan of Cardigan in the Priory Estate map book (PE/1/1)

You could map the route of your favourite walk, or the little local world around you under lockdown (indoors or out). You might want to include interesting buildings, the wildlife you saw in lanes and hedges, woods and fields, maybe a corner in your town or village where you had a wonderful (socially-distanced!) chat with a friend or stranger.
Your map doesn’t even have to show a real place; it could be the map of the beautiful desert island that you imagined on bleaker days to keep yourself sane and happy.
It doesn’t matter if your map isn’t a work of art – though works of art are welcome!

Maps are as much as about ideas as anything else and we’d love to share your ideas.
We’d like to know who you are so we can thank you, but your personal details will be kept separately from the maps and not made available to the public when the maps become part of our collections, unless you specifically want us to reveal your identity.

Send your maps to archives@ceredigion.gov.uk or by post to Ceredigion Archives, Old Town Hall, Queen’s Square, Aberystwyth SY23 2EB.

All the maps shown here are hand-drawn or handmade! But if you need more inspiration, please visit our Explore Your Archive exhibition in the Aberystwyth Bandstand.

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Captain Richard G. Read of Llangawsai, Llanbadarn Fawr

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan on the 15th of August 2020 we present a guest blog by Simon Burgess, Capt. Read’s great grandson.


During World War 2, Richard Read was a prisoner of war, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore on the 15th February 1942.  He, with nearly 150,000 mainly British, Australian and New Zealander (but also Indian and Dutch) troops became a prisoner of war. Winston Churchill called it the ‘worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history’. There followed over three and a half years of brutality and exploitation for Read and his fellow POWs. Those taking part in the Far East campaign were known as the Forgotten Army, as for those back home the more immediate threat to their lives was the war in Europe.


Image 1 -R G Read December 1945

Captain R G Read in December 1945, within a few weeks of his return to Aberystwyth

Richard George Read was a Captain in the Royal Artillery. He had already spent 25 years in the Royal Artillery before World War 2 began.

He joined the Army aged 14 in 1914. During the First World War he spent time in France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After the war he was posted overseas, spending time in Palestine and Egypt. He spent nearly a decade in Egypt; it was there that he met Daisy Preston, a nanny, at the Abbassia Army Barracks School, Cairo. He and Daisy married in the British Consulate in Cairo in 1927 and within a year his eldest daughter, Eileen, was born. The family returned to Britain in 1930. Richard was with ‘F’ Battery Royal Horse Artillery at this time, before a posting to Mid Wales (Cardigan Battery) allowed him to settle with his family in Aberystwyth. The family home was in Llangawsai, Llanbadarn Fawr. By now a Battery Quartermaster Sergeant, he was awarded his Long Service Medal in January 1936, before leaving in 1938.

Richard re-enlisted just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, as a Lieutenant (QM) in the Territorial Army in Aberystwyth and Cardigan, at first with the 102nd (which later became 146th Regiment) Royal Artillery, and was promoted to Captain during this period.

In 1941 he decided to relinquish his Captain’s rank to join the 118th  Field Regiment Royal Artillery as Lieutenant again, perhaps because this Unit was due to be shipped to the Middle East and he wanted to ‘do his duty’ in action. Forming part of the 18th Division, the 118th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery departed the UK in late 1941, expecting to travel to the Middle East.

Image 10 training in India

Lt. R. G. Read either in training in India or possibly after arrival in Singapore in February 1942

However, the war against Japan in the Far East was not going well and Churchill decided to deploy the 18th Division to Singapore. Initially spending two weeks in India for some rushed and last minute training, it arrived in Singapore at the end of January 1942 when the battle was already virtually lost.

Image 3 - Gen Wavell

General Wavell’s last order sent 10th February 1942, just days before the surrender on the 15th February; the order contains instruction ‘Commanders and Senior Officers must lead their troops and, if necessary, die with them. There must be no thought of surrender and every unit must fight it out to the end and in close contact with the enemy.’

The Division landed during air raids on Singapore harbour and many men disembarked without the right equipment and very little training for Far East warfare. Within two weeks on the 15th February 1942 Singapore had surrendered to the invading Japanese.

Image 4 Gen Percival

General Percival – Telegram surrender to the Japanese on 15th February 1942

Image 5 - Gen. Yamashita letter

General Yamashita – Terms of the surrender of Allied Troops in Singapore

Image 5A - Surrender to the Nippon army

General Yamashita – telegram seeking the surrender of the Allied forces to the Nippon Army 13th February 1942

The Japanese had refused to sign up to the Geneva Convention and many of the camp guards were notorious for their acts of cruelty to their prisoners. The interpretation of the Japanese honour code Bushido  which was used in the training of Japanese troops during WWII meant that men who surrendered were considered beneath contempt, and resulted in guards regarding their prisoners as unworthy of humane treatment.

Image 14 - POW Card

Japanese Prisoner of War record card for Lt R.G. Read

Read kept a diary, and managed to write entries for most of his incarceration. His diaries make for some harrowing reading: prisoners were used as slave labour on the infamous ‘Death Railway’ built by the POWs between Burma and Thailand, in mines and in Japan or its invaded territories. Tales of hardship, starvation, beatings and death fill his diary. Richard entered weighing 12st 10lbs but by the time of his release was down to 7st 10lbs, a reduction of 40%.

Diary

Diary, May 1944. ‘Snail, rats, seaweed, […] latest delicacies’

weight+diary

Diary, August 1944, recording further weight loss

Many prisoners died as a result of malnutrition, starvation or tropical diseases. The heavy workload also took its toll.  During his 3 ½  years as a prisoner of war Captain Read was mainly held at Changi POW camp in Singapore, and there is a photograph in his collection showing the prisoners on a ‘work party’ accompanied by Japanese guards.

Image 2 - POWs

Japanese propaganda photograph, three guards and nine prisoners, on a work party, possibly sent to clean up after the surrender in 1942 and in the Bukit Timah area of Singapore. Note slouch hats were worn by the British during this time, although one prisoner (crouching next to the Japanese guard on the right) could be an indigenous Australian.

These work parties were used initially to clear up after the surrender. Photographs of this type were created as propaganda by the Japanese in order to illustrate to the outside world how well they were treating their prisoners.

Families back in Britain were unaware of the fate of their loved ones held by the Japanese, many assuming the worst after years of no contact.

Image 6 - Read telegram2

Telegram sent by Captain R. G. Read to his wife Daisy, dated 31st January 1942 but not received until 10 August 1944. This may have been the first indication to Daisy that her husband was still alive and a prisoner of war.

Image 6A - addendum to telegram

Explanatory note attached to the delayed telegram

The first letter Captains Read’s wife Daisy received from her husband was sent from Singapore and dated 31st January 1942 but did not arrive until 10th August 1944. 

Image 9 Handmade POW cards

Handmade Christmas and birthday cards given to Lt R. G. Read mostly 1942-44. Paper was a rare commodity in these camp and the prisoners often traded with the guards in order to make items like these cards.

Discipline in the camps was harsh and attempts at escape were met with violence, some ending in firing squad or beheadings.  One incident was known as the ‘Selerang Barracks Incident’ which started on 30 August 1942 as a result of the Japanese recapturing four POWs who had attempted an escape.

Changi+camp+refusal

Diary entry about the ‘Selerang Barracks Incident’

The Japanese required that the other 17,000 prisoners in the camp sign a pledge never to attempt to escape again. After they refused, the POWs were forced to crowd in the barrack square for nearly five days with little water and no sanitation. This failed to break the men; however, the prisoners’ commanding officer realised that the dire conditions would soon lead to more loss of life through disease, lack of water and starvation. He instructed the men to sign the pledge, which they all eventually did, though many did so using false names. The Japanese later took the four men who had attempted to escape to the nearby beach area and shot them by firing squad.

Incidents like this badly affected those who were fortunate enough to survive. Up to a third who returned home suffered what is now known as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). At that time mental health problems were often hushed up or brushed under the carpet, meaning many prisoners were left to deal with these issues on their own, and families often had to deal with the aftermath.

Image 7 Handmade POW Tobacco tin

Handmade tobacco tin, made in Changi POW Camp given to Lt. R. G. Read of the 118th Field Regiment , Royal Artillery. This aluminium tin was probably made in the camp from metal stolen by the prisoners from the Japanese.

Image 8 Handmade POW Tobacco tin

Tobacco tin, inscription on the inside lid

Captain Read suffered from beri-beri and dyspepsia during his time in Changi, being bed-bound for the last few months. Beriberi is a disease caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency, also known as thiamine deficiency. Dyspepsia (indigestion) can be an early sign of intestinal or stomach cancer, of which he eventually died in September 1946.

Gaps in his diary entries and subsequent notes show he was sometimes delirious or too poorly to write. The Japanese never gave the POWs any medical treatment; the prisoners themselves organised their own ‘hospitals’ with many men enduring medical procedures without anaesthetic or even the most basic of equipment. Prisoners suffered the effects of poor diet, malnutrition and tropical diseases including malaria and devastating epidemics of cholera. The efforts of their medical comrades undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.

It was only when Captain Read was shipped to India in autumn 1945 that he started to recover and gain weight.

Image 12 Medical card

Field medical card for Captain R. G. Read. This card was issued whilst he recuperated in Madras, India in the autumn of 1945, after the surrender of the Japanese in August.

Many of the sickest prisoners could not be shipped home immediately and so were taken initially to hospitals in India or Australia ; some even went home via the USA and Canada. On his return to Southampton R. G. Read travelled aboard the SS ‘Llandovery Castle’.

Image 13 - on the way home - Telegram from Madras

Telegram sent by R. G. Read to his wife Daisy, from Madras whilst recuperating, 20th  September 1945

On his arrival home to Aberystwyth on 1st December of that year he was greeted off the train by the Mayor and town dignitaries. An article was published in the Cambrian News giving an account of his homecoming.

Later, he briefly joined the Amphibious Training Wing in Tywyn in 1946, but sadly never really recovered from his poor treatment as a POW and died at Chester Military Hospital in September 1946. He left behind his wife Daisy and two daughters, Eileen and Mary. He is commemorated on the Llanbadarn Fawr War Memorial.

Image 15 - Llanbadarm War Memorial

Llanbadarn War Memorial showing Richard George Read’s name


Simon Burgess

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Cardigan? Hasn’t changed a bit.

We are delighted to present a guest blog by William Howells, the former County Librarian and a native of Cardigan.


Cardigan town

Cartouche depicting Cardigan town on John Speed’s map of Cardiganshire.

A quick glance at John Speed’s 1610 map of Cardigan confirms that the basic layout of the High Street and principal side streets of the town have not changed in over four hundred years. However, consideration as to the usefulness of various buildings have ensured that changes have occurred over the decades.

The earlier photographs were taken by J. Turnor Mathias towards the end of the nineteenth century. An attempt has been made to repeat the process, to confirm their location and show what can be seen from the same viewpoint in 2020. I am grateful to Keith Ladd for his help with the photographs.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Viewpoint 1:

If you stood on the old town bridge looking north, for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century you would have seen (1A) a row of houses situated directly in front of the castle walls and stretching from the bridge right up to the current Castle entrance. This was called Bridge Parade. The man on the bicycle is outside the Liverpool Arms which was number 6 (buildings are numbered from left to right in this photo). The licence of the Liverpool Arms was held by Hannah Davies, 1891–6; Benjamin Lloyd 1896–98; and Sarah Williams 1901–23.

Today (1B) you are able to look at an unobstructed view of the Castle Walls.

Viewpoint 2:

Moving left, the next photograph shows Argyle House, number 3 Bridge Parade. (2A)

In 1838 this was the home of John James Jones and his family. John, the father was an ironmonger, and a deacon at the town’s Bethania Baptist Chapel and mayor (in 1870); his son, David Owen was born here in 1836 and followed in his father’s footsteps as an ironmonger and deacon. He died on the 8th of March 1924.

Interestingly, David Turnor Mathias and family lived at 4 Bridge Parade between 1877 and 1891.

John Turnor Mathias (the photographer) was born in 1859, and later moved to Quay St. He was listed as a commercial merchant’s clerk in 1881 and mercantile clerk in 1891. Here then, he was taking a picture of his birthplace. By 1911 John Salmon, bootmaker, worked here and then Jenkin Arthur Griffiths between 1914 and 1926.

Today, again (2B) it is the Castle Walls that are prominent.

Viewpoint 3:

In the middle of this photograph (3A) stands London House or Bridge House (taken c. 1935). Most of the houses surrounding the entrance to the bridge were demolished c. 1933, mainly to improve access for road traffic across the old town bridge. The houses to the left were still there (as empty shells) in the 1960s.

Although access to the old bridge is now much improved (3B), the heavy volume of traffic has meant that a second bridge has been built upriver and opened in 1990.

Viewpoint 4:

The houses of Bridge Parade once followed up to the top of the hill in front of the Castle walls. (4A). Their removal now means that a clearer view can now be seen of the historic warehouses on the other side of the Teifi (4B).

Viewpoint 5:

At the top of Grosvenor Hill looking towards the Castle entrance is Green St. (5B) The buildings on both sides still stand and now form part of the entrance to the recently renovated Castle. 1 Green Street was formerly the Half Moon Inn (1830s–c.1913); no. 2 was formerly the Castle Inn (c.1840s–90s). On the right-hand side is no. 3 (Tŷ Castell) occupied in the 1860s by Asa Johnes Evans, solicitor. In the 1960s it was the home of Pritchard, Griffiths & Co., accountants (5A).

Viewpoint 6:

From the Castle entrance look north towards the town clock (6B) you will notice that several of the buildings on the left hand side have been demolished, no. 1 a second-hand bookshop run by Mrs Frances Mason in the 1960s, no. 2 was Volk’s the bakery. On the right is now Brioude Gardens. (6A)

Viewpoint 7:

If you then walk a little way down Quay St and turn round to face the Castle, this is what you will see (7B). The shops which previously stood here have been demolished (7A).

Viewpoint 8:

Proceeding along High St, but before reaching the Black Lion, turn round to face the bridge once more and you will see the Shire Hall which dates from the eighteenth century. It then developed as a commercial centre where many shops housed here have been and gone over the decades. Between 1926 and 1947 it housed S. T. Jones’ garage. (8A). The buildings/shops on the right side, including the Three Mariners public house have been demolished. They now form part of the Brioude Gardens mentioned previously (8B).

Viewpoint 9:

If you then walk towards the Shire Hall but turn down left into St Mary’s St, carry on down to the bottom until you reach the road that heads towards the bridge, turn round and look back up St Mary’s St you will see this view. (9B)

In the earlier photograph (9A) (left hand side) can be seen the noticeboards outside the Tivy-side Offices at no. 39.  Where the figures are standing is the turning to the Strand. Opposite is the White Hart Inn no. 11 (1703–1932). The buildings on the right side were demolished during the late 1960s to widen the road for through traffic approaching the old bridge.

Viewpoint 10:

On the left is the Strand and a familiar scene of flooding during high tides on the nearby river Teifi (10A). The modern photograph, a little further along, shows further 1960s clearance to make way for traffic (10B)

Viewpoint 11:

Behind the Guildhall, head down College Street until you reach the car park behind the Guild Hall. The house on the right has been demolished to allow entrance to the present car park. (11A). The houses on the left still stand today (11B)

Viewpoint 12:

This view is taken from the far right of the car park looking back towards these houses. This is Greenfield Square. It shows the jumble surrounding the Mwldan stream (12A). The area has now been cleared and houses the car park behind the Guildhall (12B).

Viewpoint 13:

The house on the far left in the previous photo (12B) is shown between the rows of houses here (13A). This was Mill St; the mill was nearby. The houses on both sides have been demolished (13B)

Viewpoint 14:

Head back towards Theatr Mwldan, turn right up to the main street (Pendre) you will see this shop on the corner. (14B)

The earlier photo (14A) shows Will Pantcoch holding the horse’s head. The man with the white beard and hat was Thomas Griffiths, the shop owner (grocer). In 1871, he was a married man of 39 years old, with a wife Eliza, and 2, later 3 sons. Evan (Ianto) their youngest son, with moustache and cap, is in the doorway.

Opposite the shop once stood the Board school (where the current Health Centre stands), demolished in the early 1970s. The children enjoyed watching Thomas throwing a daily bucket of India corn for the pigeons. John Davies opened his shop in 1908. His son Alwyn was responsible for the shop in 1962 and the shop closed on 2 February 1985.

Viewpoint 15:

Further along, where the one way system begins leading along Feidrfair, on the right hand corner is this shop (15B). In the 1960s, Mapstone the Greengrocers stood here. The postbox is still there. (15A)

Viewpoint 16:

Carrying on northwards towards the Cenotaph, you will see a large 1960s building, housing the local Job Centre (16B). This used to be part of Lion Terrace (16A). The road leading away is Napier St.

Viewpoint 17:

If you walk on pass the town Cenotaph on your left you will reach the junction leading to Gwbert (17B). The empty field on the right (behind the hedging) was filled with the present day Catholic Church, officially opened in 1970 (17A).

Viewpoint 18:

If you turn round 90 degrees you are looking along Gwbert Road (18A). On the right hand side is the Bowling Club, opened in 1980 (18B).

William H. Howells

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The walls came tumbling down: Cardiganshire and the 1865 Prison Act

We present another exclusive guest blog by Richard Ireland.


Richard W. Ireland is a legal historian who taught for many years at Aberystwyth University. He is the author of many articles and his books include ‘A Want of Order and Good Discipline’: Rules and Discretion in the Victorian Prison and ‘Land of White Gloves’?: A History of Crime and Punishment in Wales. He is a founding Committee Member of the Welsh Legal History Society and has made a number of appearances on television and radio.


I was asked to contribute another blog at a time when the COVID 19 virus had us all confined to our homes. Without access either to the Archives themselves or indeed to much of my own research material, I was a little daunted. It felt a little like being in solitary confinement (though I know enough about prisons to know that such a statement is unnecessarily hyperbolic). But my mind was turned to imprisonment and to the effect on the county of one Act of Parliament in particular.

The Prison Act of 1865 was a piece of legislation of major significance in the history of judicial punishment. The nineteenth century saw a revolution in the treatment of convicted criminals, the old public, corporal punishments giving way to the pre-eminence of the prison. The death penalty was in practice restricted from its previous extensive range to cases of murder only, the stocks, pillory and public whipping disappeared, the sentence of transportation was abolished in 1857. Now the sentence which was front and centre of the criminal justice system was to be one of imprisonment.

Prisons had been used against criminals from the middle ages, though not, theoretically at any rate, for the most serious of crimes, for which execution was the prescribed penalty. Prisons were kept in every county, locally administered, financed and staffed, a position which was extended to Wales after Henry VIII’s Union legislation. In addition to these County Gaols, the opening of a former royal palace, Bridewell, in 1556 formed the model for another tier of custodial establishments, which sometimes shared the name of the original building but were officially to become known as “Houses of Correction”. These confined and put to work the idle poor and petty criminals, poverty and criminality often being regarded as similar conditions. In 1609 the provision of a House of Correction became compulsory for every county. One was in due course constructed in Cardigan and another in Aberystwyth. The exact dates of the construction of these first quarters (I suspect the Cardigan one to be earlier) are unknown to me with my current limited stock of research resources, but only the naive would assume that the statute was immediately implemented anywhere in Cardiganshire. As we will see, the County was not above neglecting its legal obligations, particularly if they would cost money. The County Gaol, meanwhile, continued to operate in Cardigan. The Aberystwyth story is complicated by the fact that the House of Correction was repositioned at different times. In 1799, for example, it moved to a site on Great Darkgate Street (see map). The various locations are considered in that excellent history of the town, Born on a Perilous Rock by W.J. Lewis.

Aberystwyth_town_plan_4669578 (3)

The penal revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw not only a greater use of imprisonment but also more intervention in their operations on the part of the central government. For serious offenders the state even opened its own institutions, the first being Millbank Penitentiary in 1816. More were to follow. But even the County Gaols were being touched by the desire for modernity and uniformity evidenced by the activities of central government. The Prison Inspectorate was formed in 1835 and local institutions, though still nominally independent, were under pressure to adhere to general standards and to operate more uniform regimes. Houses of Correction were becoming less distinct institutions from county prisons as time went on and the latter became more developed. Records of the Aberystwyth establishment are rare, but Dr Skarżyńska drew my attention to a few documents in the Roberts and Evans collection in the Archives, including an inventory of the material within the institution as reproduced here.

RE.PS.5.1 Aber House of Correction inventory r

Though brief and schematic as a document it provides interesting details of life in the institution. Alongside the religious literature and the handcuffs we find the record of the presence of seven spinning wheels. These would have been the objects of the compulsory labour of those who were confined. Spinning was so used in other such Welsh institutions, as at Forden and Montgomery. Although it bears no date the inventory possibly comes from 1845, as it is found in the same collection as another similar inventory relating to the Cardigan Gaol and House of Correction of that year. The failure within this latter document to differentiate between the two Cardigan institutions suggest that they were at that point combined within the same complex of buildings. This pattern was common in other towns where a County Gaol was maintained, as for example in neighbouring Carmarthen.

In 1865 the Prison Act sought to impose greater standards of uniformity on county institutions. Whereas previously persuasion had been tried, now there was recourse to compulsion. The Aberystwyth House of Correction had the dubious distinction of being one of the few establishments explicitly closed by the statute. The County Gaol was obliged, under pain of withdrawal of government financial support, to make certain changes by the act, which included a requirement for the provision of separate cells for prisoners, rather than the communal accommodation which had lingered in many gaols. The Inspector’s Reports on the institutions leading up to the 1865 Act would give an indication of the state of the buildings, but my own solitary confinement at present means that I have been unable to access them. Nonetheless, Cardiganshire’s authorities never went to the trouble or the expense of undertaking the work on the Gaol. They sat tight. An oversight of the 1865 Act was that it failed to make any provision for the fate of prisoners should an institution be closed. In 1877 the entire prison estate of England and Wales was brought under Home Office control. Carmarthenshire, which had dutifully rebuilt its own gaol after the 1865 Act, borrowing £15,000 to do so, found itself having to take in the prisoners from Cardiganshire, and also from Pembrokeshire. Only Cardigan’s House of Correction remained: its Gaol, once one of the very indicators of county status, was closed. It seems to me, and I am sure that it seemed to the authorities in Carmarthen, that they were themselves being penalised for their neighbours’ breaches of the law!

Richard W. Ireland

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