Some years ago our past president Mrs. Alice E Williams wrote a valuable book describing the background to our dances. Sadly the book has not yet been published, a tragedy which should be put right as soon as possible. Here follows an excerpt from ‘Dancing Paths’ describing Lady Llanover and two dances attributed to her, published here by the kind permission of the author.
Dancing Paths by Alice E Williams
Llanofer Court was between Abergavenny and Newport, Gwent. It was a big pseudo-Tudor Mansion designed by Thomas Hopper and built of stone for Benjamin Hall of Abercarn, the son of a wealthy industrialist. In 1823 he married Augusta Waddington of Llanofer Park and the Mansion was built for them in 1836. At his death, Benjamin Waddington left his entire estate to his second daughter Augusta. Some years after their marriage, Augusta and Benjamin Hall took up residence in their new splendid home – Llanofer Court. In 1837 Benjamin Hall was elevated to the peerage and became Baron Llanofer. In 1855-58 he was appointed Her Majesty’s (Queen Victoria) first Commissioner of Works. During his tenure the great clock, known as Big Ben, was installed in the Tower of Westminster. When the Baron died, his widow set about doing what she had always wanted to do – safeguard, preserve and protect the Welsh Traditional Culture. Her entire estate was transformed into an idealized Welsh village or hamlet.
Fluent Welsh speakers were employed on her farms, on her entire estate and in the manor house. Her tenants and all her workers were obliged to wear Welsh Costume.
A Welsh Calvinist Church was built on her holdings. She built a flannel mill on her estate (Gwenffrwd Woollen Mill). She closed the seven taverns her husband had established on their estate. A school was built on the estate and a Welsh speaking headmaster from Bethesda, Arfon (T.A.) Willianis was appointed. She established a Harp School in her mansion to study and play the harp.
Harpists lived and worked at Llanofer Court – but it was only the Welsh Triple Harp that was allowed to be played. A Family Harper was appointed – Thomas Gruffydd.
There was also a harpist whose special duties was to play for the dancing in the Court. Dancing met with Lady Augusta’s full approval. The Baron died thirty years before his remarkable wife. Today, they lie side by side in the Llanofer churchyard in a magnificent mausoleum, covered with Cymric texts and symbols and surmounted by the Arms adopted on Benjamin Hall’s elevationto the peerage.
The Main Entrance is a Tudor Gateway with an inscription on its side:-
Who art thou, stranger?
If a friend,a hearty welcome be thine,
If a stranger, hospitality awaits thee.
If a foe, thou shalt be imprisoned by gentleness.
On the other side were inscribed the following words:-
Gentle departing friend, leave thy blessing
With those that thou leavest, and blessed be thou
Health and ease be with thee on thy journey
And a joyful return be thine.
Pen y Parc Gate, The Village Gate, The Bee Gate. These other gates are to be found at the other points of the compass.
There were nine wells or springs in the grounds of the Manor each said to have curative powers. The largest of them was known as Ffynnon Gofer.
Lady Llanofer’s bardic name was Gwenynen Gwent – The Bee of Gwent – an apt appellation.