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Books on Hay, Montgomery and Radnorshire

Iolo's Revenge: Sheep Farming by Happy Accident in Mid-Wales
by Diana Ashworth, illustrated by Wendy Wigley

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Iolo's Revenge
ack with flaps, 184 pages, with 27 black and white illustrations
ISBN 978-1-910839-24-9  £7.99

‘Jolly, insightful and struck through with a deep affection for her adopted Wales, Iolo’s Revenge is a charming account of one couple’s eventful attempts at home-making in the hills. Peppered throughout with amusing stories and colourful characters, this book presents the joyous world of birthing ewes, pond plug-holes and truncated Welsh that the ‘Retired Lady’ has learned to call her own. An uplifting, thoroughly enjoyable read.’Oliver Balch

‘They'll do! They're the ones I want’, said the old farmhouse, probably in Welsh, and the couple (the ones the old place wanted) were drawn into the life of the place – inspired by its beauty, its creatures, its moods and its stories.In 2005 Diana Ashworth and her husband spotted a dilapidated farmhouse with 25 acres in a rural hamlet in Montgomeryshire, the plan being for a holiday home. They were outbid at the auction, wished the new owners well and thought nothing more of it. But the sale fell through and before they knew it they’d had ‘their offer’ accepted (what offer? – I didn’t know we’d made an offer!) They moved in and were rapidly drawn deeper and deeper into the life of the place and its people, working all hours to make the tumble-down house habitable, and somehow stumbling into hill farming along the way. This is their story. Written with an infectious warmth and humour, Iolo’s Revenge is a hugely engaging account of the couple’s new life in the Welsh borders – a life embarked upon with gusto and generosity, openness and wonder, and interspersed with drama and a great deal of unintended comedy. 

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Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire: The history in the landscape explored through 26 circular walks

by Andy and Karen Johnson

Paperback, 208 pages, with over 200 colour photographs and 27 maps
ISBN: 978 1 910839 07 2     £12.95

The walks in this book have been chosen with the aim of exploring Radnorshire’s past, with each walk passing or visiting features about which some background information is given. These include churches, nonconformist chapels, castle sites, dykes, tumuli and other prehistoric remains, Roman forts, a battlefield, medieval houses, spas, upland farming systems, drovers’ roads, squatter settlements, inns and a dismantled railway line. Several can only be reached on foot. They have also been chosen to help you explore Radnorshire’s countryside (and occasionally spill over into that of its neighbouring counties) and breathe its good air. Some walks follow river valleys whilst many more wander its rolling hills and provide expansive views. Others explore Radnorshire’s towns and their nearby landscape. The walks range from 3½ to 10½ miles in length, with the majority being between 4 and 7½ miles. Each walk has a sketch map and detailed directions, together with background information about features en route. We hope that the combination of photographs and text, together with the index, will make the book more than simply a book of walks, but also a companion to and celebration of Radnorshire, an area we both love.

Early Birds and Boys in Blue: A century of Radnorshire aviation

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by Phillip Jones

Paperback, 272 pages, over 20 colour and 150 black and white photographs
ISBN 978-1-910839-17 -1     £12.95

In April 1912 Denys Corbett Wilson made an emergency landing near Colva en route to becoming the first to fly across the Irish Sea. That heroic flight heralded a flurry of aerial activity across Radnorshire and the following year air displays were becoming an accepted part of the summer’s entertainment. In 1914 a French balloon unexpectedly came to earth near New Radnor. With the start of the First World War the displays came to an end, but one of their effects may have been to encourage young Radnorshire men to join the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor of the RAF, for several did. Their stories tell of the dangers of flying in those days and of facing German planes and anti-aircraft fire. After the war one of the pilots, who had always had an interest in natural history, had a fish tank made to fit over his aircraft’s engine so that he could import tropical fish on his return flights from Germany.

Between the wars, efforts were made to create an airport at Llandrindod Wells, and for two years an air taxi service operated from the town. During the 1930s air displays were common at shows at Builth, Knighton and especially Llandrindod, with visits from the likes of Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus and his plane the Youth of Britain, which took youngsters on free flights, all to encourage an interest in aviation.

With the coming of the Second World War, these displays once again were brought to a halt, but perhaps because of them, as before, many young Radnorshire men joined the RAF, some having previously been members of the Air Cadets of which there were several groups across the county. Several Radnorshire men undertook at least part of their RAF training in the USA and Canada, and were to serve from bases in the UK, North Africa, Italy (as the allies pushed north in 1943) and the Far East. Reading their stories is like learning about the Second World War from a peculiarly Radnorshire perspective. Chapters also cover the bombing of Radnorshire and those aircraft that came down in the county, usually on training flights but including one German plane brought down by a combination of anti-aircraft fire and the actions of a night fighter. Finally there are stories of those who joined the RAF in the 1950s and of the aircraft that have crashed as Radnorshire became part of the RAF’s area for low flying training.

Phillip Jones’s father is one of those mentioned in the book. Phillip’s passion led him and his wife Amanda to spend 25 years researching all they could about those from Radnorshire or who came to live in Radnorshire that had connections with the RAF and also the Royal Naval Air Service. This book is the result of that time spent talking to those still alive and family members of those who aren’t, and many hours beavering away in the archives.

The Story of Norton, Powys

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by Keith Parker

Paperback, 96 pages with 45 photographs, maps, family trees and tables.
ISBN: 978 1 910839 10 2    £5

Norton, as Keith Parker describes, is sandwiched between Offa’s Dyke and the English Welsh border, a position that proved fraught in earlier centuries. Its Norman castle probably shared a similar fate to the castle at the centre of Knighton, changing hands a few times and probably being burnt to the ground on more than one occasion.
    But activity surrounding the small settlement established round the church and castle was and is largely devoted to farming, and it has been the prosperity, or otherwise, of agriculture that has been of greatest concern over most decades. In prosperous times the owners of much of the surrounding land who lived at Impton and then Norton Manor, or at Boultibroke on the edge of Presteigne, have had money to invest locally and the wherewithal to hire servants. With the passing of the Prices and Green Prices at Norton, and the Jones Brydges at Boultibrooke, the estates have been broken up and farms owned by a wider range of people. In recent decades much new housing has been built and the settlement risks becoming simply a satellite of Presteigne.
    As a result of trawling through newspapers and records down the centuries, local historian Keith Parker, already the author of books on Presteigne, Knighton, Radnorshire politics and the Civil War in the county, tells how the settlement has fared down the years.

The Book of Hay

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by Kate Clarke

2nd, completely revised, edition
Paperback, 128 pages with 26 colour and over 30 mono illustrations
ISBN 9781906663902     £7.50

The aim of this book is to provide the visitor to Hay with a feel for the town and surrounding area. It gives a broad outline of the currents of history that have swirled around the settlement and through its streets, and of those who played a role in that history: the de Breos family, King John, the de Bohun earls of Hereford, King Henry III, Simon de Montfort, the Llywelyns, and many men and women of the Marches, that swathe of country that once straddled the current border.
As times grew more settled, so traders and merchants grew in importance, as did the struggles to use the Wye as a trade route. Agricultural markets grew, associated businesses came and went, the whole percolated by the religious changes that swept to and fro. Hay even became the site of a stoning of a nonconformist preacher, William Seward, who died as a result of his injuries.
    With the coming of the railways, cheaper competition from further afield caused many businesses to falter. Extracts form the diary of Francis Kilvert, written whilst he was a curate at nearby Clyro, add to the atmosphere of Victorian Hay, and the account of the famous trial of Major Armstrong for murder sheds light on the town in the 1920s. Also featured are some of the people who have in recent years played a role in creating the current town, notably Richard Booth, self-styled King of Hay. For Richard began a ‘new’ trade of secondhand books which has spawned associated literary and other festivals which, combined, have brought new vigour to the town.
    This book is a completely revised and updated edition of that first published in 2000, which has benefited from the contributions of Clare Purcell and Mari Fforde, each intimately involved with the life of Hay.

Kate Clarke, crime writer and diarist, is an ex-London schoolteacher now living in Hay-on-Wye. Her books include Murder at the Priory: The Mysterious Poisoning of Charles Bravo (with Bernard Taylor), short-listed for the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award; The Pimlico Murder; Who Killed Simon Dale?; Deadly Service; Bad Companions; Lethal Alliance and Fatal Affairs. She is currently collaborating on an A-Z of Victorian Crime. All volumes of her Journal (as Kate Paul) are held in the Mass Observation Archive, Special Collections, at Sussex University Library.

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Parties, Polls and Riots:
Politics in nineteenth-century Radnorshire
by Keith Parker

192 pages with 40 black and white illustrations
Paperback   £10  (ISBN 978 1 906663 23 0)    Now reduced to £5

This book covers the issues and personalities of Radnorshire politics in the nineteenth century. The local issues which exercised voters and non-voters alike, when the electoral franchise was much more restricted, were the rights of cottagers who had encroached on common land; tolls and tollgates; and fishing rights. The imposition of additional costs on Radnorshire’s many small farmers in the form of tolls came on top of other grievances — declining farm incomes, tithes, high poor rates and increased local taxation — and the very visible and local tollgates became an easy focus on which anger could be vented, forcing the authorities into overhauling the turnpike system in south Wales. The issues of commons encroachment and fishing rights saw more of a class divide and in both cases the Radnorshire establishment found it politic to make concessions to local public opinion.
        Keith Parker brings out the careers and political thoughts of the candidates, both those successful and unsuccessful, delves into the local issues that fired local politics, the ebb and flow of allegiances between families and how radicalism could cause estrangements, gives a feeling for elections down the century, and explains how the gradually increasing number of electors changed the way that electioneering took place. In so doing he also provides a social history of Radnorshire in the nineteenth century.
        A former deputy head of John Beddoes School, Keith Parker lectured for some years on local history for the Extra-Mural Department of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and since retirement has spent much of this time in historical research and writing. Parties, Polls and Riots is the third of his books on the history of Radnorshire to be published by Logaston Press.