"Old Characters" translated from "Hanes Plwyf Penderyn".

The Fortune-teller.

Jemima Jones, or to give her popular name, “Yr Hen Jem” (The old Jem) was a remarkable character in many ways. She came to this district, it is said, as a vagrant around 1854. She had been a servant previously with Mr Harris, Cwrtycadno. She was given a position here by two old bachelors – Philip and Gruffydd, in Blaencadlan. The former was a drover and the latter a farm labourer; but after they had grown old and unable to work, they relied on the money that “Jem” made from telling fortunes. She was a shrewd and a remarkably cunning lady, and she became very popular. Men swarmed to her in hordes from every part of the country.
Of stature, she was a short, robust woman, with a long face, intense blue eyes, and a Roman nose. She possessed a deep, manly voice, and she spoke slowly with authority. She distinguished herself in dress as well. Her gown was a sort of sack, with laces at the bottom; and as a top, she wore one of the brothers’ coat. Over her head, a thick shawl would cover her face, apart from the eyes and nose. She had a secret room in her house, for her business, with closed curtains over the window, so that no light would enter. She was hardly ever seen outside the front door, and as soon as she heard footsteps approaching the house, she would retire from the hearth to some corner out of sight.
When visitors entered the house to see her, she would come out from her hiding place telling them to stand by the fire until she called them into the room. In the meantime, she would be inside there, conferring with “the evil one”, asking for his enlightenment on the topic. When she was ready, she would open the door and call them in to her; and in the light of a rush-candle that flickered on the table, she would condemn them to dwell among the spirits of “the evil land”, if they with-held the truth. She questioned them carefully, and as a rule, the innocents would make a clean breast of it. She would therefore succeed in frightening the unsuspecting and superstitious ones. As far as we can understand from her, she was but a relatively uneducated creature, as she had never received the advantages of an education.
In 1864, she and the brothers moved from Blaencadlan to Blaenhepste. The strange part of the story was that the old cottage went up in flames on the night of their departure, while she looked down on the scene from the brow of a nearby hill. She was summoned” before her betters” for the offence, but she could not be found guilty. In September 1869, they moved from Blaenhepste to Nantyderi – another lonely spot – and it is there that she ended her career at a ripe old age on October 8th, 1870. Her remains were taken to be buried in Ystradfellte churchyard by a group of mischievous boys, singing and mocking on the way, as the writer can testify.

A Remarkable Character and a Family of Harpists.

Morgan Rhys, or better known as “Mocyn Blaenhepste” was one of the strangest characters of his age. He flowered around 1810 – 1830.He came from a respected family, but Morgan turned out to be a gambler, reveller (taplaswr) and a famous cock-fighter. He dwelt in Blaenhepste, and he could keep nothing more on the small farmstead other than a cow or two and a pony.
But he had many ponies on Pantywern (the real Pantywern breed), many geese, and dozens of hens and cockerels. He reared a lineage of tenacious and pugnacious cockerels, that were known for many a year as “Breed Mocyn Blaenhepste”. As the late Jenkin Howell stated in the Gweithiwr Cymreig, “Many weeks of work were lost, many barrels of beer were drunk, much swearing was heard, many fights took place, and many cockerels’’ heads were broken, for a cause, and for “Breed Mocyn Blaenhepste”.
His greatest opponent was Twmi Hywel Lewis, the harpist from Pontneddfechan, who would come to the Penderyn Festival to play his harp. He was the son of Hywel Lewis, poet and harpist of the same place. Twmi the harpist had a daughter Jennet who could play the harp. They all played in the same style, the left hand for the melody, and the right hand to play the second melody and to form the chords, which usually were naturally, of a good standard, and totally consistent with the song’s requirements. They played every tune in the same key, unless there was a request to play penillion (verses) in another key. They could modulate to the fifth through a secret manipulation of the thumb, by raising the fourth, and making it the leading note for the fifth. Their harps had no pedals, for sure; but they could, likewise, play very difficult tunes through skill and manipulation.

Dic Penderyn
One of the leaders of the Merthyr Riots of 1831. He was accused of murdering one of the soldiers in the riots, and according to the evidence given at the time, he was proven guilty; and he was executed in Cardiff for the offence. His body was taken to Aberafan, Glamorgan for burial as he was a native of that place. He had no connection at all with Penderyn. His proper name was Richard Lewis, and he was called “Dic fel Aderyn” (Dick like a bird) [not Dick Penderyn], as he used to say of himself when he was happy, “Yr wyf fel aderyn” (I am like a bird). Years later, it was proved that he had been unjustly executed. See the Western Mail, &c.

Lewsyn the Hunter, or Lewsyn Shanco Lewis.

He also took part in the Merthyr Riots. He worked there at the time. He was the son of Jenkin Lewis, a butcher from Blaencadlan. At that time, workers’ wages were only some seven to nine shillings a week. Lewis had plenty of food while in his father’s house, but after going to Merthyr, getting married and keeping a family, he hadn’t nearly enough. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising for him and his co-workers to write on the strikers’ banner “Bread or Blood”. Things had come to a head – the choice was either to remain half starving, or to spill blood in order to gain justice for the impoverished workers. It appears that Lewis fled from the turmoil, and came over the mountains to hide in Hendrebolon woods, Ystradfellte, for some days. They scoured the countryside for him, and eventually, the officers came across him in the above woods, where-from they took him to the Lamb Inn, Penderyn, where a carriage awaited to transport him to Merthyr to stand trial. He was transported for life, but we heard that he had regained his freedom after many years; but he never returned to the land of his birth.

Shoni Ysguborfawr.

Shoni was a famous pugilist and a prodigal son. He and others took part in much villainy at the time of, and in the name of the Rebecca uprising in south Wales. He was caught and exiled for life.