Picture of George Borrow

George Borrow

places mentioned

Introduction; Norfolk to Chester

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WALES is a country interesting in many respects, and deserving of more attention than it has hitherto met with. Though not very extensive, it is one of the most picturesque countries in the world, a country in which Nature displays herself in her wildest, boldest, and occasionally loveliest forms. The inhabitants, who speak an ancient and peculiar language, do not call this region Wales, nor themselves Welsh. They call themselves Cymry or Cumry, and their country Cymru, or the land of the Cumry. Wales or Wallia, however, is the true, proper, and without doubt original name, as it relates not to any particular race, which at present inhabits it, or may have sojourned in it at any long bygone period, but to the country itself. Wales signifies a land of mountains, of vales, of dingles, chasms, and springs. It is connected with the Cumbric bal, a protuberance, a springing forth; with the Celtic beul or beal, a mouth; with the old English welle, a fountain; with the original name of Italy, still called by the Germans Welschland; with Balkan and Vulcan, both of which signify a casting out, an eruption; with Welint or Wayland, the name of the Anglo-Saxon god of the forge; with the Chaldee val, a forest, and the German wald; with the English bluff, and the Sanscrit palava - startling assertions, no doubt, at least to some; which are, however, quite true, and which at some future time will be universally acknowledged so to be.

But it is not for its scenery alone that Wales is deserving of being visited; scenery soon palls unless it is associated with remarkable events, and the names of remarkable men. Perhaps there is no country in the whole world which has been the scene of events more stirring and remarkable than those recorded in the history of Wales. What other country has been the scene of a struggle so deadly, so embittered, and protracted as that between the Cumro and the Saxon? - A struggle which did not terminate at Caernarvon, when Edward Longshanks foisted his young son upon the Welsh chieftains as Prince of Wales; but was kept up till the battle of Bosworth Field, when a prince of Cumric blood won the crown of fair Britain, verifying the olden word which had cheered the hearts of the Ancient Britons for at least a thousand years, even in times of the darkest distress and gloom:-

"But after long pain
Repose we shall obtain,
When sway barbaric has purg'd us clean;
And Britons shall regain
Their crown and their domain,
And the foreign oppressor be no more seen."

Of remarkable men Wales has assuredly produced its full share. First, to speak of men of action:- there was Madoc, the son of Owain Gwynedd, who discovered America, centuries before Columbus was born; then there was "the irregular and wild Glendower," who turned rebel at the age of sixty, was crowned King of Wales at Machynlleth, and for fourteen years contrived to hold his own against the whole power of England; then there was Ryce Ap Thomas, the best soldier of his time, whose hands placed the British crown on the brow of Henry the Seventh, and whom bluff Henry the Eighth delighted to call Father Preece; then there was - who? - why Harry Morgan, who led those tremendous fellows the Buccaneers across the Isthmus of Darien to the sack and burning of Panama.

What, a buccaneer in the list? Ay! and why not? Morgan was a scourge, it is true, but he was a scourge of God on the cruel Spaniards of the New World, the merciless task-masters and butchers of the Indian race: on which account God favoured and prospered him, permitting him to attain the noble age of ninety, and to die peacefully and tranquilly at Jamaica, whilst smoking his pipe in his shady arbour, with his smiling plantation of sugar-canes full in view. How unlike the fate of Harry Morgan to that of Lolonois, a being as daring and enterprising as the Welshman, but a monster without ruth or discrimination, terrible to friend and foe, who perished by the hands, not of the Spaniards, but of the Indians, who tore him limb from limb, burning his members, yet quivering, in the fire - which very Indians Morgan contrived to make his own firm friends, and whose difficult language he spoke with the same facility as English, Spanish, and his own South Welsh.

For men of genius Wales during a long period was particularly celebrated. - Who has not heard of the Welsh Bards? though it is true that, beyond the borders of Wales, only a very few are acquainted with their songs, owing to the language, by no means an easy one, in which they were composed. Honour to them all! everlasting glory to the three greatest - Taliesin, Ab Gwilym and Gronwy Owen: the first a professed Christian, but in reality a Druid, whose poems fling great light on the doctrines of the primitive priesthood of Europe, which correspond remarkably with the philosophy of the Hindus, before the time of Brahma: the second the grand poet of Nature, the contemporary of Chaucer, but worth half a dozen of the accomplished word-master, the ingenious versifier of Norman and Italian tales: the third a learned and irreproachable minister of the Church of England, and one of the greatest poets of the last century, who after several narrow escapes from starvation both in England and Wales, died master of a paltry school at New Brunswick, in North America, sometime about the year 1780.

But Wales has something besides its wonderful scenery, its eventful history, and its illustrious men of yore to interest the visitor. Wales has a population, and a remarkable one. There are countries, besides Wales, abounding with noble scenery, rich in eventful histories, and which are not sparingly dotted with the birthplaces of heroes and poets, in which at the present day there is either no population at all, or one of a character which is anything but attractive. Of a country in the first predicament, the Scottish Highlands afford an example: What a country is that Highland region! What scenery! and what associations! If Wales has its Snowdon and Cader Idris, the Highlands have their Hill of the Water Dogs, and that of the Swarthy Swine: If Wales has a history, so have the Highlands - not indeed so remarkable as that of Wales, but eventful enough: If Wales has had its heroes, its Glendower and Father Pryce, the Highlands have had their Evan Cameron and Ranald of Moydart; If Wales has had its romantic characters, its Griffith Ap Nicholas and Harry Morgan, the Highlands have had Rob Roy and that strange fellow Donald Macleod, the man of the broadsword, the leader of the Freacadan Dhu, who at Fontenoy caused, the Lord only knows, how many Frenchmen's heads to fly off their shoulders, who lived to the age of one hundred and seven, and at seventy-one performed gallant service on the Heights of Abraham: wrapped in whose plaid the dying Wolfe was carried from the hill of victory. - If Wales has been a land of song, have not the Highlands also? - If Wales can boast of Ab Gwilym and Gronwy, the Highlands can boast of Ossian and MacIntyre. In many respects the two regions are equals or nearly so; - In one respect, however, a matter of the present day, and a very important matter too, they are anything but equals: Wales has a population - but where is that of the Highlands? - Plenty of noble scene; Plenty of delightful associations, historical, poetical, and romantic - but, but, where is the population?

The population of Wales has not departed across the Atlantic, like that of the Highlands; it remains at home, and a remarkable population it is - very different from the present inhabitants of several beautiful lands of olden fame, who have strangely degenerated from their forefathers. Wales has not only a population, but a highly interesting one - hardy and frugal, yet kind and hospitable - a bit crazed, it is true, on the subject of religion, but still retaining plenty of old Celtic peculiarities, and still speaking Diolch i Duw! - the language of Glendower and the Bards.

The present is a book about Wales and Welsh matters. He who does me the honour of perusing it will be conducted to many a spot not only remarkable for picturesqueness, but for having been the scene of some extraordinary event, or the birth-place or residence of a hero or a man of genius; he will likewise be not unfrequently introduced to the genuine Welsh, and made acquainted with what they have to say about Cumro and Saxon, buying and selling, fattening hogs and poultry, Methodism and baptism, and the poor, persecuted Church of England.

An account of the language of Wales will be found in the last chapter. It has many features and words in common with the Sanscrit, and many which seem peculiar to itself, or rather to the family of languages, generally called the Celtic, to which it belongs. Though not an original tongue, for indeed no original tongue, or anything approximating to one, at present exists, it is certainly of immense antiquity, indeed almost entitled in that respect to dispute the palm with the grand tongue of India, on which in some respects it flings nearly as much elucidation as it itself receives in others. Amongst the words quoted in the chapter alluded to I wish particularly to direct the reader's attention to gwr, a man, and gwres, heat; to which may be added gwreichionen, a spark. Does not the striking similarity between these words warrant the supposition that the ancient Cumry entertained the idea that man and fire were one and the same, even like the ancient Hindus, who believed that man sprang from fire, and whose word vira,1 which signifies a strong man, a hero, signifies also fire?

There are of course faults and inaccuracies in the work; but I have reason to believe that they are neither numerous nor important: I may have occasionally given a wrong name to a hill or a brook; or may have overstated or understated, by a furlong, the distance between one hamlet and another; or even committed the blunder of saying that Mr Jones Ap Jenkins lived in this or that homestead, whereas in reality Mr Jenkins Ap Jones honoured it with his residence: I may be chargeable with such inaccuracies; in which case I beg to express due sorrow for them, and at the same time a hope that I have afforded information about matters relating to Wales which more than atones for them. It would be as well if those who exhibit eagerness to expose the faults of a book would occasionally have the candour to say a word or two about its merits; such a wish, however, is not likely to be gratified, unless indeed they wisely take a hint from the following lines, translated from a cywydd of the last of the great poets of Wales:

"All can perceive a fault, where there is one -
A dirty scamp will find one, where there's none."2


Proposed Excursion - Knowledge of Welsh - Singular Groom -
Harmonious Distich - Welsh Pronunciation - Dafydd Ab Gwilym.

IN the summer of the year 1854 myself, wife, and daughter determined upon going into Wales, to pass a few months there. We are country people of a corner of East Anglia, and, at the time of which I am speaking, had been residing so long on our own little estate, that we had become tired of the objects around us, and conceived that we should be all the better for changing the scene for a short period. We were undetermined for some time with respect to where we should go. I proposed Wales from the first, but my wife and daughter, who have always had rather a hankering after what is fashionable, said they thought it would be more advisable to go to Harrowgate, or Leamington. On my observing that those were terrible places for expense, they replied that, though the price of corn had of late been shamefully low, we had a spare hundred pounds or two in our pockets, and could afford to pay for a little insight into fashionable life. I told them that there was nothing I so much hated as fashionable life, but that, as I was anything but a selfish person, I would endeavour to stifle my abhorrence of it for a time, and attend them either to Leamington or Harrowgate. By this speech I obtained my wish, even as I knew I should, for my wife and daughter instantly observed, that, after all, they thought we had better go into Wales, which, though not so fashionable as either Leamington or Harrowgate, was a very nice picturesque country, where, they had no doubt, they should get on very well, more especially as I was acquainted with the Welsh language.

It was my knowledge of Welsh, such as it was, that made me desirous that we should go to Wales, where there was a chance that I might turn it to some little account. In my boyhood I had been something of a philologist; had picked up some Latin and Greek at school; some Irish in Ireland, where I had been with my father, who was in the army; and subsequently whilst an articled clerk to the first solicitor in East Anglia - indeed I may say the prince of all English solicitors - for he was a gentleman, had learnt some Welsh, partly from books and partly from a Welsh groom, whose acquaintance I made. A queer groom he was, and well deserving of having his portrait drawn. He might be about forty-seven years of age, and about five feet eight inches in height; his body was spare and wiry; his chest rather broad, and his arms remarkably long; his legs were of the kind generally known as spindle-shanks, but vigorous withal, for they carried his body with great agility; neck he had none, at least that I ever observed; and his head was anything but high, not measuring, I should think, more than four inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the forehead; his cheek-bones were high, his eyes grey and deeply sunken in his face, with an expression in them, partly sullen, and partly irascible; his complexion was indescribable; the little hair which he had, which was almost entirely on the sides and the back part of his head, was of an iron-grey hue. He wore a leather hat on ordinary days, low at the crown, and with the side eaves turned up. A dirty pepper and salt coat, a waistcoat which had once been red, but which had lost its pristine colour, and looked brown; dirty yellow leather breeches, grey worsted stockings, and high-lows. Surely I was right when I said he was a very different groom to those of the present day, whether Welsh or English? What say you, Sir Watkin? What say you, my Lord of Exeter? He looked after the horses, and occasionally assisted in the house of a person who lived at the end of an alley, in which the office of the gentleman to whom I was articled was situated, and having to pass by the door of the office half-a-dozen times in the day, he did not fail to attract the notice of the clerks, who, sometimes individually, sometimes by twos, sometimes by threes, or even more, not unfrequently stood at the door, bareheaded - mis-spending the time which was not legally their own. Sundry observations, none of them very flattering, did the clerks and, amongst them, myself, make upon the groom, as he passed and repassed, some of them direct, others somewhat oblique. To these he made no reply save by looks, which had in them something dangerous and menacing, and clenching without raising his fists, which looked singularly hard and horny. At length a whisper ran about the alley that the groom was a Welshman; this whisper much increased the malice of my brother clerks against him, who were now whenever he passed the door, and they happened to be there by twos or threes, in the habit of saying something, as if by accident, against Wales and Welshmen, and, individually or together, were in the habit of shouting out "Taffy," when he was at some distance from them, and his back was turned, or regaling his ears with the harmonious and well-known distich of "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief: Taffy came to my house and stole a piece of beef." It had, however, a very different effect upon me. I was trying to learn Welsh, and the idea occurring to me that the groom might be able to assist me in my pursuit, I instantly lost all desire to torment him, and determined to do my best to scrape acquaintance with him, and persuade him to give me what assistance he could in Welsh. I succeeded; how I will not trouble the reader with describing: he and I became great friends, and he taught me what Welsh he could. In return for his instructions I persuaded my brother clerks to leave off holloing after him, and to do nothing further to hurt his feelings, which had been very deeply wounded, so much so, that after the first two or three lessons he told me in confidence that on the morning of the very day I first began to conciliate him he had come to the resolution of doing one of two things, namely, either to hang himself from the balk of the hayloft, or to give his master warning, both of which things he told me he should have been very unwilling to do, more particularly as he had a wife and family. He gave me lessons on Sunday afternoons, at my father's house, where he made his appearance very respectably dressed, in a beaver hat, blue surtout, whitish waistcoat, black trowsers and Wellingtons, all with a somewhat ancient look - the Wellingtons I remember were slightly pieced at the sides - but all upon the whole very respectable. I wished at first to persuade him to give me lessons in the office, but could not succeed: "No, no, lad;" said he, "catch me going in there: I would just as soon venture into a nest of porcupines." To translate from books I had already, to a certain degree, taught myself, and at his first visit I discovered, and he himself acknowledged, that at book Welsh I was stronger than himself, but I learnt Welsh pronunciation from him, and to discourse a little in the Welsh tongue. "Had you much difficulty in acquiring the sound of the ll?" I think I hear the reader inquire. None whatever: the double l of the Welsh is by no means the terrible guttural which English people generally suppose it to be, being in reality a pretty liquid, exactly resembling in sound the Spanish ll, the sound of which I had mastered before commencing Welsh, and which is equivalent to the English lh; so being able to pronounce llano I had of course no difficulty in pronouncing Lluyd, which by-the-bye was the name of the groom.

I remember that I found the pronunciation of the Welsh far less difficult than I had found the grammar, the most remarkable feature of which is the mutation, under certain circumstances, of particular consonants, when forming the initials of words. This feature I had observed in the Irish, which I had then only learnt by ear.

But to return to the groom. He was really a remarkable character, and taught me two or three things besides Welsh pronunciation; and to discourse a little in Cumraeg. He had been a soldier in his youth, and had served under Moore and Wellington in the Peninsular campaigns, and from him I learnt the details of many a bloody field and bloodier storm, of the sufferings of poor British soldiers, and the tyranny of haughty British officers; more especially of the two commanders just mentioned, the first of whom he swore was shot by his own soldiers, and the second more frequently shot at by British than French. But it is not deemed a matter of good taste to write about such low people as grooms, I shall therefore dismiss him with no observation further than that after he had visited me on Sunday afternoons for about a year he departed for his own country with his wife, who was an Englishwoman, and his children, in consequence of having been left a small freehold there by a distant relation, and that I neither saw nor heard of him again.

But though I had lost my oral instructor I had still my silent ones, namely, the Welsh books, and of these I made such use that before the expiration of my clerkship I was able to read not only Welsh prose, but, what was infinitely more difficult, Welsh poetry in any of the four-and-twenty measures, and was well versed in the compositions of various of the old Welsh bards, especially those of Dafydd ab Gwilym, whom, since the time when I first became acquainted with his works, I have always considered as the greatest poetical genius that has appeared in Europe since the revival of literature.

After this exordium I think I may proceed to narrate the journey of myself and family into Wales. As perhaps, however, it will be thought that, though I have said quite enough about myself and a certain groom, I have not said quite enough about my wife and daughter, I will add a little more about them. Of my wife I will merely say that she is a perfect paragon of wives - can make puddings and sweets and treacle posset, and is the best woman of business in Eastern Anglia - of my step-daughter - for such she is, though I generally call her daughter, and with good reason, seeing that she has always shown herself a daughter to me - that she has all kinds of good qualities, and several accomplishments, knowing something of conchology, more of botany, drawing capitally in the Dutch style, and playing remarkably well on the guitar - not the trumpery German thing so-called - but the real Spanish guitar.


The Starting - Peterborough Cathedral - Anglo-Saxon Names - Kaempe Viser - Steam - Norman Barons - Chester Ale - Sion Tudor - Pretty Welsh Tongue.

SO our little family, consisting of myself, my wife Mary, and my daughter Henrietta, for daughter I shall persist in calling her, started for Wales in the afternoon of the 27th July, 1854. We flew through part of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire in a train which we left at Ely, and getting into another, which did not fly quite so fast as the one we had quieted, reached the Peterborough station at about six o'clock of a delightful evening. We proceeded no farther on our journey that day, in order that we might have an opportunity of seeing the cathedral.

Sallying arm in arm from the Station Hotel, where we had determined to take up our quarters for the night, we crossed a bridge over the deep quiet Nen, on the southern bank of which stands the station, and soon arrived at the cathedral - unfortunately we were too late to procure admission into the interior, and had to content ourselves with walking round it and surveying its outside.

It is named after, and occupies the site, or part of the site of an immense monastery, founded by the Mercian King Peda, in the year 665, and destroyed by fire in the year 1116, which monastery, though originally termed Medeshamsted, or the homestead on the meads, was subsequently termed Peterborough, from the circumstance of its having been reared by the old Saxon monarch for the love of God and the honour of Saint Peter, as the Saxon Chronicle says, a book which I went through carefully in my younger days, when I studied Saxon, for, as I have already told the reader, I was in those days a bit of a philologist. Like the first, the second edifice was originally a monastery, and continued so till the time of the Reformation; both were abodes of learning; for if the Saxon Chronicle was commenced in the monkish cells of the first, it was completed in those of the second. What is at present called Peterborough Cathedral is a noble venerable pile, equal upon the whole in external appearance to the cathedrals of Toledo, Burgos and Leon, all of which I have seen. Nothing in architecture can be conceived more beautiful than the principal entrance, which fronts the west, and which, at the time we saw it, was gilded with the rays of the setting sun.

After having strolled about the edifice surveying it until we were weary, we returned to our inn, and after taking an excellent supper retired to rest.

At ten o'clock next morning we left the capital of the meads. With dragon speed, and dragon noise, fire, smoke, and fury, the train dashed along its road through beautiful meadows, garnished here and there with pollard sallows; over pretty streams, whose waters stole along imperceptibly; by venerable old churches, which I vowed I would take the first opportunity of visiting: stopping now and then to recruit its energies at places, whose old Anglo-Saxon names stared me in the eyes from station boards, as specimens of which, let me only dot down Willy Thorpe, Ringsted, and Yrthling Boro. Quite forgetting everything Welsh, I was enthusiastically Saxon the whole way from Medeshamsted to Blissworth, so thoroughly Saxon was the country, with its rich meads, its old churches and its names. After leaving Blissworth, a thoroughly Saxon place by-the-bye, as its name shows, signifying the stronghold or possession of Bligh or Blee, I became less Saxon; the country was rather less Saxon, and I caught occasionally the word "by" on a board, the Danish for a town; which "by" waked in me a considerable portion of Danish enthusiasm, of which I have plenty, and with reason, having translated the glorious Kaempe Viser over the desk of my ancient master, the gentleman solicitor of East Anglia. At length we drew near the great workshop of England, called by some, Brummagem or Bromwicham, by others Birmingham, and I fell into a philological reverie, wondering which was the right name. Before, however, we came to the station, I decided that both names were right enough, but that Bromwicham was the original name; signifying the home on the broomie moor, which name it lost in polite parlance for Birmingham, or the home of the son of Biarmer, when a certain man of Danish blood, called Biarming, or the son of Biarmer, got possession of it, whether by force, fraud, or marriage - the latter, by-the-bye, is by far the best way of getting possession of an estate - this deponent neither knoweth nor careth. At Birmingham station I became a modern Englishman, enthusiastically proud of modern England's science and energy; that station alone is enough to make one proud of being a modern Englishman. Oh, what an idea does that station, with its thousand trains dashing off in all directions, or arriving from all quarters, give of modern English science and energy. My modern English pride accompanied me all the way to Tipton; for all along the route there were wonderful evidences of English skill and enterprise; in chimneys high as cathedral spires, vomiting forth smoke, furnaces emitting flame and lava, and in the sound of gigantic hammers, wielded by steam, the Englishman's slave. After passing Tipton, at which place one leaves the great working district behind; I became for a considerable time a yawning, listless Englishman, without pride, enthusiasm, or feeling of any kind, from which state I was suddenly roused by the sight of ruined edifices on the tops of hills. They were remains of castles built by Norman Barons. Here, perhaps, the reader will expect from me a burst of Norman enthusiasm: if so he will be mistaken; I have no Norman enthusiasm, and hate and abominate the name of Norman, for I have always associated that name with the deflowering of helpless Englishwomen, the plundering of English homesteads, and the tearing out of poor Englishmen's eyes. The sight of those edifices, now in ruins, but which were once the strongholds of plunder, violence, and lust, made me almost ashamed of being an Englishman, for they brought to my mind the indignities to which poor English blood has been subjected. I sat silent and melancholy, till looking from the window I caught sight of a long line of hills, which I guessed to be the Welsh hills, as indeed they proved, which sight causing me to remember that I was bound for Wales, the land of the bard, made me cast all gloomy thoughts aside and glow with all the Welsh enthusiasm with which I glowed when I first started in the direction of Wales.

On arriving at Chester, at which place we intended to spend two or three days, we put up at an old-fashioned inn in Northgate Street, to which we had been recommended; my wife and daughter ordered tea and its accompaniments, and I ordered ale, and that which always should accompany it, cheese. "The ale I shall find bad," said I; Chester ale had a villainous character in the time of old Sion Tudor, who made a first-rate englyn upon it, and it has scarcely improved since; "but I shall have a treat in the cheese, Cheshire cheese has always been reckoned excellent, and now that I am in the capital of the cheese country, of course I shall have some of the very prime." Well, the tea, loaf and butter made their appearance, and with them my cheese and ale. To my horror the cheese had much the appearance of soap of the commonest kind, which indeed I found it much resembled in taste, on putting a small portion into my mouth. "Ah," said I, after I had opened the window and ejected the half-masticated morsel into the street, "those who wish to regale on good Cheshire cheese must not come to Chester, no more than those who wish to drink first-rate coffee must go to Mocha. I'll now see whether the ale is drinkable;" so I took a little of the ale into my mouth, and instantly going to the window, spirted it out after the cheese. "Of a surety," said I, "Chester ale must be of much the same quality as it was in the time of Sion Tudor, who spoke of it to the following effect:-

"Chester ale, Chester ale! I could ne'er get it down,
'Tis made of ground-ivy, of dirt, and of bran,
'Tis as thick as a river below a huge town!
'Tis not lap for a dog, far less drink for a man.'

Well! if I have been deceived in the cheese, I have at any rate not been deceived in the ale, which I expected to find execrable. Patience! I shall not fall into a passion, more especially as there are things I can fall back upon. Wife! I will trouble you for a cup of tea. Henrietta! have the kindness to cut me a slice of bread and butter."

Upon the whole we found ourselves very comfortable in the old- fashioned inn, which was kept by a nice old-fashioned gentlewoman, with the assistance of three servants, namely, a "boots" and two strapping chambermaids, one of which was a Welsh girl, with whom I soon scraped acquaintance, not, I assure the reader, for the sake of the pretty Welsh eyes which she carried in her head, but for the sake of the pretty Welsh tongue which she carried in her mouth, from which I confess occasionally proceeded sounds which, however pretty, I was quite unable to understand.


Chester - The Rows - Lewis Glyn Cothi - Tragedy of Mold - Native of Antigua - Slavery and the Americans - The Tents - Saturday Night.

ON the morning after our arrival we went out together, and walked up and down several streets; my wife and daughter, however, soon leaving me to go into a shop, I strolled about by myself. Chester is an ancient town with walls and gates, a prison called a castle, built on the site of an ancient keep, an unpretending-looking red sandstone cathedral, two or three handsome churches, several good streets, and certain curious places called rows. The Chester row is a broad arched stone gallery running parallel with the street within the facades of the houses; it is partly open on the side of the street, and just one story above it. Within the rows, of which there are three or four, are shops, every shop being on that side which is farthest from the street. All the best shops in Chester are to be found in the rows. These rows, to which you ascend by stairs up narrow passages, were originally built for the security of the wares of the principal merchants against the Welsh. Should the mountaineers break into the town, as they frequently did, they might rifle some of the common shops, where their booty would be slight, but those which contained the more costly articles would be beyond their reach; for at the first alarm the doors of the passages, up which the stairs led, would be closed, and all access to the upper streets cut off, from the open arches of which missiles of all kinds, kept ready for such occasions, could be discharged upon the intruders, who would be soon glad to beat a retreat. These rows and the walls are certainly the most remarkable memorials of old times which Chester has to boast of.

Upon the walls it is possible to make the whole compass of the city, there being a good but narrow walk upon them. The northern wall abuts upon a frightful ravine, at the bottom of which is a canal. From the western one there is a noble view of the Welsh hills.

As I stood gazing upon the hills from the wall a ragged man came up and asked for charity.

"Can you tell me the name of that tall hill?" said I, pointing in the direction of the south-west. "That hill, sir," said the beggar, "is called Moel Vamagh; I ought to know something about it as I was born at its foot." "Moel," said I, "a bald hill; Vamagh, maternal or motherly. Moel Vamagh, the Mother Moel." "Just so, sir," said the beggar; "I see you are a Welshman, like myself, though I suppose you come from the South - Moel Vamagh is the Mother Moel, and is called so because it is the highest of all the Moels." "Did you ever hear of a place called Mold?" said I. "Oh, yes, your honour," said the beggar; "many a time; and many's the time I have been there." "In which direction does it lie?" said I. "Towards Moel Vamagh, your honour," said the beggar, "which is a few miles beyond it; you can't see it from here, but look towards Moel Vamagh and you will see over it." "Thank you," said I, and gave something to the beggar, who departed, after first taking off his hat. Long and fixedly did I gaze in the direction of Mold. The reason which induced me to do so was the knowledge of an appalling tragedy transacted there in the old time, in which there is every reason to suppose a certain Welsh bard, called Lewis Glyn Cothi, had a share.

This man, who was a native of South Wales, flourished during the wars of the Roses. Besides being a poetical he was something of a military genius, and had a command of foot in the army of the Lancastrian Jasper Earl of Pembroke, the son of Owen Tudor, and half-brother of Henry the Sixth. After the battle of Mortimer's Cross, in which the Earl's forces were defeated, the warrior bard found his way to Chester, where he married the widow of a citizen and opened a shop, without asking the permission of the mayor, who with the officers of justice came and seized all his goods, which, according to his own account, filled nine sacks, and then drove him out of the town. The bard in a great fury indited an awdl, in which he invites Reinallt ap Grufydd ap Bleddyn, a kind of predatory chieftain, who resided a little way off in Flintshire, to come and set the town on fire, and slaughter the inhabitants, in revenge for the wrongs he had suffered, and then proceeds to vent all kinds of imprecations against the mayor and people of Chester, wishing, amongst other things, that they might soon hear that the Dee had become too shallow to bear their ships - that a certain cutaneous disorder might attack the wrists of great and small, old and young, laity and clergy - that grass might grow in their streets - that Ilar and Cyveilach, Welsh saints, might slay them - that dogs might snarl at them - and that the king of heaven, with the saints Brynach and Non, might afflict them with blindness - which piece, however ineffectual in inducing God and the saints to visit the Chester people with the curses with which the furious bard wished them to be afflicted, seems to have produced somewhat of its intended effect on the chieftain, who shortly afterwards, on learning that the mayor and many of the Chester people were present at the fair of Mold, near which place he resided, set upon them at the head of his forces, and after a desperate combat, in which many lives were lost, took the mayor prisoner, and drove those of his people who survived into a tower, which he set on fire and burnt, with all the unhappy wretches which it contained, completing the horrors of the day by hanging the unfortunate mayor.

Conversant as I was with all this strange history, is it wonderful that I looked with great interest from the wall of Chester in the direction of Mold?

Once did I make the compass of the city upon the walls, and was beginning to do the same a second time, when I stumbled against a black, who, with his arms leaning upon the wall, was spitting over it, in the direction of the river. I apologised, and contrived to enter into conversation with him. He was tolerably well dressed, had a hairy cap on his head, was about forty years of age, and brutishly ugly, his features scarcely resembling those of a human being. He told me he was a native of Antigua, a blacksmith by trade, and had been a slave. I asked him if he could speak any language besides English, and received for answer that besides English, he could speak Spanish and French. Forthwith I spoke to him in Spanish, but he did not understand me. I then asked him to speak to me in Spanish, but he could not. "Surely you can tell me the word for water in Spanish," said I; he, however, was not able. "How is it," said I, "that, pretending to be acquainted with Spanish, you do not even know the word for water?" He said he could not tell, but supposed that he had forgotten the Spanish language, adding however, that he could speak French perfectly. I spoke to him in French - he did not understand me: I told him to speak to me in French, but he did not. I then asked him the word for bread in French, but he could not tell me. I made no observations on his ignorance, but inquired how he liked being a slave? He said not at all; that it was very bad to be a slave, as a slave was forced to work. I asked him if he did not work now that he was free? He said very seldom; that he did not like work, and that it did not agree with him. I asked how he came into England, and he said that wishing to see England, he had come over with a gentleman as his servant, but that as soon as he got there, he had left his master, as he did not like work. I asked him how he contrived to live in England without working? He said that any black might live in England without working; that all he had to do was to attend religious meetings, and speak against slavery and the Americans. I asked him if he had done so. He said he had, and that the religious people were very kind to him, and gave him money, and that a religious lady was going to marry him. I asked him if he knew anything about the Americans? He said he did, and that they were very bad people, who kept slaves and flogged them. "And quite right too," said I, "if they are lazy rascals like yourself, who want to eat without working. What a pretty set of knaves or fools must they be, who encourage a fellow like you to speak against negro slavery, of the necessity for which you yourself are a living instance, and against a people of whom you know as much as of French or Spanish." Then leaving the black, who made no other answer to what I said, than by spitting with considerable force in the direction of the river, I continued making my second compass of the city upon the wall.

Having walked round the city for the second time, I returned to the inn. In the evening I went out again, passed over the bridge, and then turned to the right in the direction of the hills. Near the river, on my right, on a kind of green, I observed two or three tents resembling those of gypsies. Some ragged children were playing near them, who, however, had nothing of the appearance of the children of the Egyptian race, their locks being not dark, but either of a flaxen or red hue, and their features not delicate and regular, but coarse and uncouth, and their complexions not olive, but rather inclining to be fair. I did not go up to them, but continued my course till I arrived near a large factory. I then turned and retraced my steps into the town. It was Saturday night, and the streets were crowded with people, many of whom must have been Welsh, as I heard the Cambrian language spoken on every side.


Sunday Morning - Tares and Wheat - Teetotalism - Hearsay - Irish Family - What Profession? - Sabbath Evening - Priest or Minister - Give us God.

ON the Sunday morning, as we sat at breakfast, we heard the noise of singing in the street; running to the window, we saw a number of people, bareheaded, from whose mouths the singing or psalmody proceeded. These, on inquiry, we were informed, were Methodists, going about to raise recruits for a grand camp-meeting, which was to be held a little way out of the town. We finished our breakfast, and at eleven attended divine service at the Cathedral. The interior of this holy edifice was smooth and neat, strangely contrasting with its exterior, which was rough and weather-beaten. We had decent places found us by a civil verger, who probably took us for what we were - decent country people. We heard much fine chanting by the choir, and an admirable sermon, preached by a venerable prebend, on "Tares and Wheat." The congregation was numerous and attentive. After service we returned to our inn, and at two o'clock dined. During dinner our conversation ran almost entirely on the sermon, which we all agreed was one of the best sermons we had ever heard, and most singularly adapted to country people like ourselves, being on "Wheat and Tares." When dinner was over my wife and daughter repaired to the neighbouring church, and I went in quest of the camp-meeting, having a mighty desire to know what kind of a thing Methodism at Chester was.

I found about two thousand people gathered together in a field near the railroad station; a waggon stood under some green elms at one end of the field, in which were ten or a dozen men with the look of Methodist preachers; one of these was holding forth to the multitude when I arrived, but he presently sat down, I having, as I suppose, only come in time to hear the fag-end of his sermon. Another succeeded him, who, after speaking for about half an hour, was succeeded by another. All the discourses were vulgar and fanatical, and in some instances unintelligible at least to my ears. There was plenty of vociferation, but not one single burst of eloquence. Some of the assembly appeared to take considerable interest in what was said, and every now and then showed they did by devout hums and groans; but the generality evidently took little or none, staring about listlessly, or talking to one another. Sometimes, when anything particularly low escaped from the mouth of the speaker, I heard exclamations of "how low! well, I think I could preach better than that," and the like. At length a man of about fifty, pock-broken and somewhat bald, began to speak: unlike the others who screamed, shouted, and seemed in earnest, he spoke in a dry, waggish style, which had all the coarseness and nothing of the cleverness of that of old Rowland Hill, whom I once heard. After a great many jokes, some of them very poor, and others exceedingly thread-bare, on the folly of those who sell themselves to the Devil for a little temporary enjoyment, he introduced the subject of drunkenness, or rather drinking fermented liquors, which he seemed to consider the same thing; and many a sorry joke on the folly of drinking them did he crack, which some half-dozen amidst the concourse applauded. At length he said:-

"After all, brethren, such drinking is no joking matter, for it is the root of all evil. Now, brethren, if you would all get to heaven, and cheat the enemy of your souls, never go into a public- house to drink, and never fetch any drink from a public-house. Let nothing pass your lips, in the shape of drink, stronger than water or tea. Brethren, if you would cheat the Devil, take the pledge and become teetotalers. I am a teetotaller myself, thank God - though once I was a regular lushington."

Here ensued a burst of laughter in which I joined, though not at the wretched joke, but at the absurdity of the argument; for, according to that argument, I thought my old friends the Spaniards and Portuguese must be the most moral people in the world, being almost all water-drinkers. As the speaker was proceeding with his nonsense, I heard some one say behind me - "a pretty fellow that, to speak against drinking and public-houses: he pretends to be reformed, but he is still as fond of the lush as ever. It was only the other day I saw him reeling out of a gin-shop."

Now that speech I did not like, for I saw at once that it could not be true, so I turned quickly round and said - "Old chap, I can scarcely credit that!"

The man, whom I addressed, a rough-and-ready-looking fellow of the lower class, seemed half disposed to return me a savage answer; but an Englishman of the lower class, though you call his word in question, is never savage with you, provided you call him old chap, and he considers you by your dress to be his superior in station. Now I, who had called the word of this man in question, had called him old chap, and was considerably better dressed than himself; so, after a little hesitation, he became quite gentle, and something more, for he said in a half-apologetic tone - "Well, sir, I did not exactly see him myself, but a particular friend of mine heer'd a man say, that he heer'd another man say, that he was told that a man heer'd that that fellow - "

"Come, come!" said I, "a man must not be convicted on evidence like that; no man has more contempt for the doctrine which that man endeavours to inculcate than myself, for I consider it to have been got up partly for fanatical, partly for political purposes; but I will never believe that he was lately seen coming out of a gin- shop; he is too wise, or rather too cunning, for that."

I stayed listening to these people till evening was at hand. I then left them, and without returning to the inn strolled over the bridge to the green, where the tents stood. I went up to them: two women sat at the entrance of one; a man stood by them, and the children, whom I had before seen, were gambolling near at hand. One of the women was about forty, the other some twenty years younger; both were ugly. The younger was a rude, stupid-looking creature, with red cheeks and redder hair, but there was a dash of intelligence and likewise of wildness in the countenance of the elder female, whose complexion and hair were rather dark. The man was about the same age as the elder woman; he had rather a sharp look, and was dressed in hat, white frock-coat, corduroy breeches, long stockings and shoes. I gave them the seal of the evening.

"Good evening to your haner," said the man - "Good evening to you, sir," said the woman; whilst the younger mumbled something, probably to the same effect, but which I did not catch.

"Fine weather," said I.

"Very, sir," said the elder female. "Won't you please to sit down?" and reaching back into the tent, she pulled out a stool which she placed near me.

I sat down on the stool. "You are not from these parts?" said I, addressing myself to the man.

"We are not, your haner," said the man; "we are from Ireland."

"And this lady," said I, motioning with my head to the elder female, "is, I suppose, your wife."

"She is, your haner, and the children which your haner sees are my children."

"And who is this young lady?" said I, motioning to the uncouth- looking girl.

"The young lady, as your haner is pleased to call her, is a daughter of a sister of mine who is now dead, along with her husband. We have her with us, your haner, because if we did not she would be alone in the world."

"And what trade or profession do you follow?" said I.

"We do a bit in the tinkering line, your haner."

"Do you find tinkering a very profitable profession?" said I.

"Not very, your haner; but we contrive to get a crust and a drink by it."

"That's more than I ever could," said I.

"Has your haner then ever followed tinkering?" said the man.

"Yes," said I, "but I soon left off."

"And became a minister," said the elder female, "Well, your honour is not the first indifferent tinker that's turned out a shining minister."

"Why do you think me a minister?"

"Because your honour has the very look and voice of one. Oh, it was kind in your honour to come to us here in the Sabbath evening, in order that you might bring us God."

"What do you mean by bringing you God?" said I.

"Talking to us about good things, sir, and instructing us out of the Holy Book."

"I am no minister," said I.

"Then you are a priest; I am sure you are either a minister or a priest; and now that I look on you, sir, I think you look more like a priest than a minister. Yes, I see you are a priest. Oh, your Reverence, give us God! Pull out the crucifix from your bosom, and let us kiss the face of God!"

"Of what religion are you?" said I.

"Catholics, your Reverence, Catholics are we all."

"I am no priest."

"Then you are a minister; I am sure you are either a priest or a minister. Oh sir, pull out the Holy Book, and instruct us from it this blessed Sabbath evening. Give us God, sir, give us God!"

"And would you, who are Catholics, listen to the voice of a minister?"

"That would we, sir; at least I would. If you are a minister, and a good minister, I would as soon listen to your words as those of Father Toban himself."

"And who is Father Toban?"

"A powerful priest in these parts, sir, who has more than once eased me of my sins, and given me God upon the cross. Oh, a powerful and comfortable priest is Father Toban."

"And what would he say if he were to know that you asked for God from a minister?"

"I do not know, and do not much care; if I get God, I do not care whether I get Him from a minister or a priest; both have Him, no doubt, only give Him in different ways. Oh sir, do give us God; we need Him sir, for we are sinful people; we call ourselves tinkers, but many is the sinful thing - "

"Bi-do-hosd;" said the man: Irish words tantamount to "Be silent!"

"I will not be hushed," said the woman, speaking English. "The man is a good man, and he will do us no harm. We are tinkers, sir; but we do many things besides tinkering, many sinful things, especially in Wales, whither we are soon going again. Oh, I want to be eased of some of my sins before I go into Wales again, and so do you, Tourlough, for you know how you are sometimes haunted by devils at night in those dreary Welsh hills. Oh sir, give us comfort in some shape or other, either as priest or minister; give us God! Give us God!"

"I am neither priest nor minister," said, I, "and can only say: Lord have mercy upon you!" Then getting up I flung the children some money and departed.

"We do not want your money, sir," screamed the woman after me; "we have plenty of money. Give us God! Give us God!"

"Yes, your haner," said the man, "give us God! we do not want money;" and the uncouth girl said something, which sounded much like Give us God! but I hastened across the meadow, which was now quite dusky, and was presently in the inn with my wife and daughter.

1 That vira at one time meant man in general, as well as fire, there can be no doubt. It is singular how this word or something strikingly like it, occurs in various European languages, sometimes as man, sometimes as fire. Vir in Latin signifies man, but vuur in Dutch signifies fire. In like manner fear in Irish signifies a man, but fire in English signifies the consuming, or, as the Hindus would call it, the producing element.

2 "Pawb a'i cenfydd, o bydd bai,
A Bawddyn, er na byddai." - GRONWY OWEN.

George Borrow, Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery (Oxford, Mississippi, 1996)

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