Byline: By Rhodri Clark Western Mail
The county archives of Wales contain a wealth of historical treasure, but how many of us have ever browsed there? Rhodri Clark asked six archivists to choose an interesting item from their collections FOR many people, the main attraction of our county archives is the help they can provide in piecing together family trees. Many archives contain the entire records of the estates which once covered much of rural Wales.
Where the landlords took the trouble to record the details of their tenant households - as at Ceredigion's Hafod estate - the information can be invaluable for genealogists. There may be no other records of children who were born and died between the 10-yearly census.
Estate documents provide many other insights too. Letters in the Hafod collection indicate that the postal service in the 19th century delivered mail from Leeds to a remote part of Wales on the day of posting - an interesting contrast with the modern service which has been reduced from two deliveries a day to one.
County archives already contain information from the 21st century. At the other end of the spectrum is an 1176 deed of sale of land to the Monks of Sanctmarchell, held in the Gwynedd archive.
Gwynedd also holds the oldest collection of Quarter Session Records in Wales, spanning the centuries from 1541 to the 1970's. The collection includes letters from both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, and a gruesome list of injuries sustained by soldiers during the Civil War. Records of serious and petty crimes, and of attempts to force parishioners to repair roads and bridges, ensure that aspects of the lives of ordinary people are recorded.
Wales' rich maritime history is recorded in the archives, through records of shipping companies, manifests for individual voyages and legal documents showing how even the landed gentry assisted piracy.
William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), British prime minister and author, was the youngest son of Sir John Gladstone and was born into the Scottish commercial community of Liverpool. His connection with Flintshire was established on his marriage in 1839 to Catherine Glynne, the sister of Sir Stephen Glynne of Hawarden Castle. Financial difficulties in the Glynne family led to William and Catherine taking over the estate and Hawarden became their home.
Gladstone's erudition and love of scholarship are almost as well known as his political achievements. Less familiar are his tendencies towards the more athletic hobby shown in this photograph. He was a healthy man and retained his fitness well into old age. He continued felling trees until he was over 80, at which point it became too strenuous for him and he turned instead to long walks for his exercise. This photograph was taken when he was 67. The son in the photograph is his eldest, William Henry, born in 1840, who unfortunately predeceased his father.
This unusual form of recreation attracted the public attention, and crowds came to Hawarden to watch him at work. Many took home with them as souvenirs pieces of trees he had felled and made them into family heirlooms such as picture frames and book covers.
His political opponents were less impressed, Lord Randolph Churchill complaining, 'For the purposes of recreation he has selected the felling of trees; and we may usefully remark that his amusements, like his politics, are essentially destructive. Every afternoon the whole world is invited to assist at the crashing fall of some beech or elm or oak. The forest laments in order that Mr Gladstone may perspire.'
Gladstone was fortunate in having at Hawarden a large park full of trees to choose from to indulge his hobby.
The Hafod estate in the Ystwyth Valley was made famous by Thomas Johnes (1748-1816), whose grand project of creating a picturesque paradise attracted many famous visitors to this wild and remote area. …