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Dylan Jones

Aberbeeg
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The Fairies


In 1779, the Rev. Edmund Jones (1702-1793), a local Independent minister, published A Geographical, Historical, and Religious Account of the Parish of Aberystruth. Chapter XIV of this now very rare book is entitled "Of Apparitions and Agencies of the Fairies &c." and gives an invaluable first-hand account of the beliefs of the local people before the disruption of their rural society by the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 1790s. To Edmund Jones and his neighbours, the reality of the fairies and other "agents of Hell" was not some quaint eccentricity, but a fact of everyday life:


"Abundance of people saw them, and heard their musick, which every one said was low and pleasant, but none could ever learn the Tune.”(p. 69)


The fairies had various ways of appearing to mortals, but:


". . . their most frequent way of appearing was like dancing Companies with Musick, and in the form of Funerals. When they appeared like dancing Companies they were desirous to entice persons into their Company, and some were drawn among them and remained among them some time; usually a whole year; as did Edmund William Rees, a Man whom I well knew, and was a Neighbour, who came back at the years end, and looked very bad.” (Ibid., 70)


Other local people were luckier:


“Rees John Rosser, born at Hen-dy in this Parish, a very religious young man, on going very early in the morning to feed the Oxen, at a Barn called Ysgybor y lann, and having fed the Oxen, he lay himself down upon the hay to rest; while he lay he heard like the sound of music coming near the Barn; presently a large company came in the Barn with striped cloaths – some appeared more gay than others – and there danced at their music. He lay there quiet as he could, thinking they would not see him, but in vain; for one of them, a woman, appearing better than the rest, brought him a striped cushion with four tassels, one at each corner of it, to put under his head. After some time the Cock crew at the house of Blaen y Coome hard by, upon which they appeared as if they were either surprised or displeased; the cushion was then hastily taken away from under his head, and they went away. The Spirits of darkness do not like the crowing of the cock, because it gives notice of the approach of day; for they love darkness rather than light.” (Jones 1767, 33-34)

 

When not dancing and enticing people away from hearth and home, they very often appeared like funeral processions:


"But very often they appeared in the form of a Funeral before the death of many persons, with a Bier, and a Black Cloth, in the midst of a Company about it, on every side, before and after it. The instances of this were so numerous, that it is plain, and past all dispute that they infallibly foreknew the time of Men's death . . . They must therefore have this knowledge from the position of the Stars at the time of Birth, and their influence, which they perfectly understand beyond what mortal Men can do. We have a constant proof of this in the Corps Candles, whose appearance is an infallible sign that Death will follow, and they never fail going the way that the Corps will go to be buried . . . In former times several have seen the likeness of human Skulls carrying the Corps Candles, which may be some confirmation of the truth of this extraordinary thing." (Jones 1779, 72)

 

Many of the parishioners had first-hand knowledge of the fairy funerals:

"Isaac William Thomas . . . being at one time at Havodavel and seeing, as it appeared to him, a Funeral coming down the Mountain; as it were to go towards Aberbeeg, or Lanithel Church. He stood in a Field by a wall which was between him and the high-way leading to Aberbeeg. When the Funeral, which came close to the side of the wall, was just over against him, he reached his hand and took off the black vail which was over the Bier, and carried it home it him. It was made of some exceeding fine Stuff, so that when folded it was a very little substance, and very light. He told this to several. I knew the Man myself, and in my youthful days conversed with him several times." (Ibid., 73-4)


Others saw them at sunset flying from hill to hill across Cwm Beeg - a sure portent of disharmony:


"Edmund Daniel of the Arail, an honest Man, and a constant speaker of truth, and of much observation, told me, that he often saw them after Sun-set, crossing the Keven Bach, from the Valley of the Church, towards Havodavel; and that before any falling out in the Parish, they passed on, leaping and frisking in the Air, making a path in the Air, much of this form." (Ibid., 75)


Some declared that the Fairies had a leader among them:


"Thomas William Edmund of Havodavel an honest pious man, who often saw them, declared, that they appeared with one bigger then the rest going before them in the Company." (Ibid., 72)


In this regard, Edmund Jones was able to give his own experiences of the fairies as eyewitness testimony to the reality of what he saw:


"If any think I am too credulous in these relations, and speak of things, of which I myself have no experience, I must let them know they are mistaken: For when I was a very young Boy. Going with my Aunt Eliz. Roger, my Mother's Sister, in the day time, somewhat early in the Morning, but after Sun rising, from Havodavel towards my father's house at Pen y Llwyn. At the end of the upper Field of Kae yr Keven, by the way side which we were passing, I saw the likeness of a sheep-fold with the door towards the South; and over the door, instead of a lintel, the resemblance of a dried branch of a Tree, I think of a Hazel Tree; And within the fold a company of many people. Some sitting down, and some going in, and coming out, bowing their heads as they passed under the branch. It seemed to me as if they had lately been dancing, and there was Musician among them. Among the rest, over against the door, I well remember the resemblance of a fair woman with a high crown Hat, and a red Jacket, who made a better appearance than the rest, and whom I think they seemed to honour. I still have a pretty clear idea of her white Face, and well formed countenance: The men wore white Cravats . . . I wondered at my Aunt going before me, that she did not look towards them, and we going so near them. As for me, I was loath to speak until I had passed them some way, and then told my Aunt what I had seen, at which she wondered, and said, "I dreamed". However she came to believe me, and told my mother of it when we came home. It was sometime, before I could be persuaded that there was no fold in that place." (Ibid., 75-6)


The fairies had definite preferences regarding where they appeared:


"The Fairies seem not to delight in open plain grounds of any kind, far from stones and wood, nor in watery, but in dry grounds, not far from Trees and Hedges, and the shade of grown Trees, the female Oak especially . . . Of all the places in the Parish of Aberystruth, they most frequently appeared at Havodavel, and Keven Bach, which are dry lightsome pleasant places." (Ibid., 76-7)


In "tempestuous bad weather", they often came into people's houses for shelter and "into some particular Houses more than others":


"And the poor ignorant people, for fear of them, made them welcome by providing clean Water in the House; taking care that no Knife was near the Fire, or other Iron instruments, such as they knew were offensive to them, were left in the corner near the Fire; for want of which care many were hurt by them: and for cutting down the female Oaks, . . . Some were afraid . . . to enter their Gardens by night;" (Ibid., 77)

 

The fairies were also capable of carrying grown men long distances across country:

"They sometimes took Men in the night and carried them insensibly into other places. Sometimes very far; of which the following instance. Henry Edmund of Havodavel having been with the before mentioned Charles Hugh, of Coed y Pame, the said Charles Hugh, came with him as far as Lanhithel, and persuaded him to stay with him, at Lanhithel that night, which Henry Edmund would not agree to; but chose to go home; upon which Charles Hugh told him he had better stay with him, and not go farther. He went, but was taken up on the way, and carried so far as to the town of Landovery in Carmarthen-shire, which he well knew, and called at a Publick-house where he had been before, and the people earnestly persuaded him to stay with them; to which he would not comply, and going out into the street he was taken up again, and carried back to Lanhithel next morning, where he met with Charles Hugh, who saluted him saying "Did not I tell you, you had better stay with me?" (Ibid., 80)

The Hounds of Hell


The stretch of road from Cwm to Aberbeeg has many ghostly sightings to its credit. In the 18th century, one Llanhilleth man had a very unnerving experience:

“Thomas Andrew, living at a place called the Farm, in this Parish, coming home by night, saw, by the side of a wall, the similitude of a dark man, creeping on all fours, scraping the ground, and looking aside one way and another, also making a dreadful noise; at which he was terribly frightened; for it was, to every one that will consider it, a dreadful appearance.”(Jones 1767, 33)


The same Thomas Andrew was also unfortunate enough to meet the Cŵn Wybr (“Sky Hounds”), also known as Cŵn Annwn (the Hounds of Hell). These were a pack of spectral hounds lead out at night by the King of the Otherworld to hunt the souls of the damned:


“As Thomas Andrew was coming home one night, with some persons with him, he heard, as he thought, the sound of hunting: he was afraid it was some person hunting the sheep, so he hastened on to meet and hinder them: he heard them coming towards him, though he saw them not: when they came near him, their voices were small, but increasing as they went from him: they went down the steep towards the River Ebwy, dividing between this parish and Mynydduslwyn, wherby he knew that they were what are called Cwn wybir, - (Sky dogs) but in the inwards parts of wales, Cwn-annwn, - (Dogs of Hell). I have heard say that these Spiritual Hunting Dogs have been heard to pass by the eaves of several houses before the death of someone in the family. Thomas Andrew was an honest religious man, who would not have told an untruth either for fear or for favour.” (Jones 1767, 38-39)

 

The Ghost of P.C. Pope


Since the 1950s, a tall cloaked figure has been seen walking along this stretch of the road before disappearing without trace.  Is this the ghost of one P.C. Hosea Pope killed in a brawl at Aberbeeg in 1911?  While moving on a drunk late at night at Aberbeeg, he was attacked and struck with a stone, a violent arrest ensued during which the officer secured one handcuff before he was  knocked to the ground and died soon after. 

 

The website: www.policememorial.org.uk/Forces/Gwent/GwentRoll.htm states that Hosea Pope was a Police Constable in what was then Monmouthshire Constabulary.  He died on 14th July 1911, aged 33 years old.

 

Does his spirit still patrol his old beat? In 1980, a local man met a figure in a top hat near the Hanbury Hotel. The figure stared him square in the face before pulling out his pocket watch. Suddenly, a woman’s screams rang out from the woods near the Brondeg Filling Station at Cwm Beeg. The figure walked up the road glancing in the direction from which the screams came. Overcoming his understandable fear, the local man followed on behind until, near a place called the Rhiw, the figure in the top hat vanished into thin air!


The Man Moel UFO


In November 1975, not far away on Man Moel, three men driving home from work sighted a bright, flashing light floating above Rhiw Hill before it flew eastwards at an incredible speed.


Ithel the Giant


At Llanhilleth, there once lived a giant called Ithel, who decided to build himself a house and began collecting boulders from Cefn Crib above Hafodyrynys. As he was carrying them back to Llanhilleth in his apron, the string broke and he dropped the boulders. And that, so local legend has it, was how the castle mound next to St. Illtyd’s church was first built!

The Golden Calf


The altar at St. Illtyd’s chruch was once adorned with a golden statue of a calf which was stolen by two thieves. The enraged parishioners gave chase and caught the culprits in the woods beneath Pen y Fan Uchaf Farm on the other side of the valley; they confessed to burying the calf under a whitethorn tree. In vain the parishioners dug up every whitethorn on the hill and, to this day, no whitethorns grow in those woods!


The Witches of Penrhiwllech


Halfway up the forest path from Aberbeeg to Hafodafal stood a barn called Penrhiwllech. Here, at Hallowe’en, a coven of witches and warlocks would meet at midnight to ride the horses sheltering in the barn. The animals’ terrified screams would keep the entire neighbourhood awake and trembling in their beds.


Miraculous Wells


In the Celtic countries, the belief in the healing properties of certain wells or springs was widespread. The roots of this belief may lie buried in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, when offerings of gold and weapons, and even human lives, were made to gods and goddesses who dwelt in lakes, rivers and wells.


One such sacred well, known as Ffynnon Wen (The White or Sacred Well) or Ffynnon Illtyd (Illtyd’s Well) stood near Argoed Farm at Brynithel until its destruction by a local farmer. Local people would go there to bathe wounds and sprains in the hope of a cure (Olding 1995).


Refs:

Anon. 1872. “St. Illtyd’s Church, Llanhilleth”, Archaeologia Cambrensis XXVI, 153-8.

Bailey, H. W. 1957. History of the Parish of Llanhilleth (Newport Ref. Library qM230 796.33.


Baring-Gould. S. & Fisher. J. 1911. The Lives of the British Saints, Vol III, p.254.

Bradney, J. A. 1906. A History of Monmouthshire: The Hundred of Abergavenny Vol. I, Pt 2b (9 vols; repr. Academy Books, 1992).

Brooke. 0. 1988. 'The Early Christian Church In Gwent', The Monmouthshire Antiquary, Vol V, Part 3, pp.72, 75, 84.


Cowley, F. G. 1977. The Monastic Order in South Wales 1066-1349 (Cardiff: University of wales Press).


Coxe, W. 1801. An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire, Vol. II (repr. 1995 Merton Priory Press).


Davies, E.T. 1953. An Ecclesiastical History of Monmouthshire, Part I, p.98. 

Jarman, A.O.H. 1982. Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (Cardiff: University of Wales Press), p. lix.


Jones, E. 1767. A Relation of Apparitions of Spirits in the County of Monmouth and the Principality of Wales (repr. Trefeca, 1780; 2nd repr. Newport, 1813).


Jones, E. 1779. A Geographical, Historical, and Religious Account of the Parish of Aberystruth (Trefeca).


Jones. T. 1952. Brut y Tywysogion: Peniarth MS 20 Version. (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) pp.4. 135


King, D. J. C. 1983. Castellarium Anglicanum, Vol. I


Lewis, 1924. “Excavations at St. Illtyds, Monmouthshire”, Archaeologia Cambrensis LXXIX, pp. 385-8.


Lewis, 1925. “Excavations at St. Illtyds, Monmouthshire”, Archaeologia Cambrensis LXXX, pp. 372-80.


Olding, F. 1995. The Folklore of Blaenau Gwent (Abertillery: Old Bakehouse Publications).

Rees, W. 1948 South Wales and the Border in the 14th Century.

Renn, D. F. 1961. “The round keeps of the Brecon region”, Archaeologia Cambrensis CX, pp. 129-143.

 

Roderick, Alan (1987) The Ghosts of Gwent, Handpost Books, Newport.


Sikes,Wirt. 1880. British Goblins: the Realm of Faerie (repr. Llannerch 1991).


Stephens, M. 1998. The New Companion to the Literature of Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press).


Williams, A. H. 1971. John Wesley in Wales 1739-1790: Entries from his Journal and Diary relating to Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press).


Williams. D.H. 1976. White Monks in Gwent and the Border (Pontypool: Hughes and Son), pp.81 -2 


Williams, I. 1935. Canu Llywarch Hen (Cardiff: University of Wales Press).

 

www.blaenau-gwent.gov.uk

All material on this site is copyright to Dylan Jones, unless otherwise stated.