Tag Archives: Morgan

W. H. Davies

DSCN1021

This Friday sees the official opening of the 125 Exhibition at Newport Museum. It has actually been open for the public to view for a few weeks already, and one of the popular exhibits is the bronze of W. H. Davies by Jacob Epstein.

The Exhibition celebrates the 125th anniversary of the Museum and displays 125 exhibits arranged by the year they were accessioned (one for each year) and reflects the changes in collections management and the way the public see the function of museums. 125

Epstein and Davies had become friends in London and mixed in the same circles as Evan Morgan, son and heir of Courtenay Morgan, Baron Tredegar. The bronze currently on display at the Museum belonged to Evan Morgan who later donated it. Davies also paid Epstein for another cast for himself. In fact, there were six casts made in all.

W H Davies, the Newport born poet, is probably best remembered for his Autobiography of a Supertramp. His poetry remains popular today; the best known being “Leisure” (What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?).  A new edition of Supertramp was published in April by Parthian Books.

Jacob Epstein was born in the USA, but took British citizenship. His works were often controversial and he probably came into contact with Davies during his dalliance with the Vorticist Movement at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Bloomsbury. Evan Morgan was always very keen to be part of the set that would hang out here. He commissioned Epstein to produce a bronze of his hands around this time.

Evan Morgan was friendly with many of the “Eiffel Tower” stalwarts, including Nancy Cunard, Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis and Ronald Firbank.  He was an aspiring artist and poet and felt that he was in the company of his fellow travellers.  The outbreak of war in 1914 seems to have been an annoying disturbance of his literary and artistic aspirations. His persuasive manner and connections were useful for getting him cushy postings during the conflict, however his attempt to become Lloyd George’s wartime literary adviser seems to have been a step too far.

The W H Davies bronze head is in its rightful place. Following Evan’s death in 1949 most of the Morgan art collection was sold off and ended up in the hands of galleries, museums and private collectors around the world. This piece is exactly where Evan intended it to be, and you can see it in the current exhibition until October.

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The Beginning of the End – a Centenary at Tredegar House

Monday, 11th March 2013

One hundred years ago today Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, died at his home of Tredegar House in Newport. This was a pivotal moment in the fate of the Morgan dynasty and their ancestral home. This was the beginning of the end.

Godfrey Funeral

The Funeral of Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar

The Morgan family had lived at the Tredegar Park site for well over five hundred years. By the end of the Eighteenth Century they owned over forty thousand acres of land. When the Industrial Revolution came into full swing they capitalised on the new wealth it brought. They were responsible for the economic development of the Newport area and benefitted from strong links (sometimes by marriage) with the new industrialist dynasties. Godfrey Morgan was actually the “spare”, his brother Rodney being the “heir”. However, the rather wayward Rodney died prematurely in France in 1854 and Godfrey found himself next in line to inherit the Tredegar Estate. This he did on the death of his father Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, the first Baron Tredegar, in 1875. Unlike his father, Godfrey spent most of his time at Tredegar House. He took more of an interest in local politics and society and was regarded as a great philanthropist. He could afford to be. Godfrey had never married, there were no children and his lifestyle was simpler than those who preceded  and succeeded him. He was also the owner of land that was bringing industrial wealth and had interests in much of the economic infrastructure in the area. By the turn of the Century there were around a thousand farms paying rent to the Tredegar Estate. Godfrey’s net daily income was in the region of a thousand pounds.

The fortunes of the Morgans were at an apex when Godfrey died. So were the fortunes of South Wales generally, of course, with coal production at its peak. However, the iron, steel and coal industries of Wales were being threatened by the increasing competition of other European economies that had been developing and that of the United States of America. The following year would see the world thrust into the tragedy of the Great War and all of its repercussions and socio-economic upheavals. However, the Morgans were about to go into a downward spiral of near self-destruction anyway.

Courtenay Morgan

Courtenay Morgan

Godfrey’s brother Freddie had already died in 1909 and the Estate would now pass to his nephew Courtenay. Courtenay had a serious side to him, but also knew how to enjoy himself and had a very extravagant lifestyle. He spent a small fortune on servants at the various properties he owned and ran, there were yachts, parties, affairs and two children who knew how to spend just as well as their parents. Courtenay’s wife, Lady Katharine, had no desire to live in Wales and had properties in London and laterly in Surrey. When Courtenay  died in 1934 it was not just the extravagances that had taken their toll on the family fortune, but death duties were contributing to the problems of a rapidly dwindling estate. The heir to it all was not to help matters at all. Evan Morgan took his responsibilities very lightly indeed. At least Courtenay had employed level headed Estate Managers to try and manage things, Evan’s choice of employees often had more to do with their good looks than ability. By the Second World War, Evan Morgan was using only part of Tredegar House to live in, most of it was in mothballs. There was a skeleton staff running the House and the property was in need of basic repairs.

In 1949 Evan died at his mother’s home of Honeywood House. The next to inherit was his elderly Uncle Fred. Owing to his age and failing health arrangements had already been made that although Fred would inherit the title of Baron Tredegar, the bulk of the Estate would go directly to Fred’s son John in order to avoid paying double death duties.

John Morgan and sister

John Morgan and sister

John Morgan had little interest in the area. Indeed after feeling that he had been snubbed when not invited to any of the formal local celebrations and events marking the Coronation of the Queen in 1953, he decided to sever all links with South Wales.  He sold Tredegar House and its immediate grounds and gardens to the Sisters of St Joseph who would go on to use it as a Convent School and later  a comprehensive, St Joseph’s High School which outgrew the property and moved out to a purpose built establishment. John began selling off everything quite ruthlessly , with tenant farmers sometimes only discovering that their livelihoods were to be auctioned by reading it in the local press. Much of the local land went to the Eagle Star Insurance Company.

In 1954 John’s father died and John took the title finally.  John himself died in 1962. The childless Baron was the last Lord Tredegar. Twelve years later Tredegar House became the property of Newport Borough Council. An estate that had taken over half a millennium to build up had disappeared in less than half a century.


Sir Briggs – Newport’s Own Warhorse

On Friday I returned to Tredegar House to meet up with the Crew from the Welsh language TV programme Heno. I was being interviewed about Godfrey Morgan, second Lord Tredegar, his importance to Newport and, in particular, his role in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Of course, Godfrey’s famous warhorse, Sir Briggs, featured prominently too.

A few months before, on the twenty-fifth of October, staff and volunteers from Tredegar House met up at the Tredegar Arms in Bassaleg. For many years this had been one of the venues for Lord Tredegar’s Balaclava dinner. Godfrey Morgan, first Viscount Tredegar, had survived the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava on this date in 1854, and it was marked by this annual dinner. There have been previous attempts to revive this tradition, but nothing for some years.

To be honest, it wasn’t a dinner this time. This was more of a Balaclava bar meal and couple of pints. There were two talks (by myself and my colleague Paul Busby) and it was suggested that we end with a toast. It was decided that the toast should be to the horse that got the future Viscount out of the Valley of Death in one piece – Sir Briggs.  Sir Briggs is Wales’ most famous warhorse and stories of him still survive in the Newport area. Some of them are true, but some are not.

The film Warhorse has sparked a renewed interest in Sir Briggs, and he features in The National Army Museum’s exhibition “War Horse: Fact and Fiction”. The Museum’s website gallery features a very fine painting of Sir Briggs by Alfred de Prades. However, it always seemed a bit odd to the Tredegar House guides and facilitators that the Museum claims that “… little is known about ‘Sir Briggs’ beyond the evidence of this painting … “. We actually now know quite a bit about him, even if fact and fiction does get a little confused at times. Last month an article in the Wales on Sunday newspaper had tried to put things straight, but became slightly confusing itself in the end. One of the myths that has been repeated concerns how Sir Briggs got his name.

Sir Briggs was bought by Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan in 1851(soon to become the first Lord Tredegar). Sir Briggs was a good investment and had already proved his worth at the Cowbridge Steeplechases. In 1853 he was one of the entrants in the Tredegar Park Races, which were part of the Christmas tradition at the Estate. The owner is given as being C. R. Morgan, and may refer to Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, or just as easily his eldest son and heir, Charles Rodney Morgan. The other thing that this cutting from the Nottinghamshire Guardian  0f 13th January 1853 demonstrates, of course, is that Sir Briggs was so named at least twenty one months before The Charge of the Light Brigade.  There is another story that Godfrey ‘knighted’ his horse on the battlefield for his bravery. Yet another says that it was a Russian sabre cut on the shoulder that gave Briggs the title of ‘Sir’. The wound was inflicted above the horse’s eye. The horse was not dubbed for his part in the Battle of Balaclava.

Notts Guardian 1853

Godfrey wrote to his father a couple of days after the Charge.

“My Dear Father,

…… I am at present commanding officer of the 17th Lancers, which gallant little regiment now consists of 50 men and horses fit for duty and 3 officers. 

I fear that before you receive this letter you will have heard some bad news of the Cavalry Light Brigade. However, not to keep you in suspense, I will begin by saying that I am safe and well in my own person, having come out of that gallant, brilliant (but as all add, useless) charge under a tremendous fire of all arms from front and flanks, and a perfect forest of swords and lances, untouched, with only a sabre cut on poor old Sir Briggs’ head just over the right eye…”

The story that Sir Briggs was named after a Tredegar House servant is equally unfounded. Bridger Champion was a groom at Ruperra Castle who was said to have been with Godfrey at Aldershot and was perhaps his groom or even batman. Was he with Godfrey during the Crimean campaign?  Again, there is nothing in the archives to substantiate this story. The servant, John Stokes,who went out with Godfrey had to return due to ill health and many of his duties were taken on by Trooper Dobson.

Over the years at Tredegar House we had heard many stories about Sir Briggs and Godfrey. Some claimed that the horse had been stuffed and buried standing up in a deep grave in the Cedar Garden, others say that he is not actually buried at Tredegar House beneath the obelisk in the garden, but is actually interred on top of Twmbarlwm mountain overlooking the Morgan lands.

I have also recently heard that Godfrey took his pet dog down into the Valley of Death with him. This is all very entertaining, but sometimes these stories make us doubt the very truth about this remarkable horse. Sir Briggs was a remarkable horse. Having survived the sea journey to the Crimea (unlike Godfrey’s other horses), taken part in several actions including Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman, and lived through a winter that saw many horses and men perish, Sir Briggs was left in the Crimea with Godfrey’s brother, Frederick Morgan, who had became a staff officer at Sebastopol. When Godfrey finally left the Crimea after illness Frederick asked for Sir Briggs to be left with him. There was no rest for this horse. This warhorse, having lived through the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman was entered in the Sebastopol Military Steeplechase and won.

Finally, in 1855 Sir Briggs returned to Tredegar Park where he lived in retirement for twenty years. He died in 1874 and was buried in the Cedar Garden with a magnificent memorial erected above his grave. A fine tribute to this equine hero. It reads:

In Memory of

Sir Briggs

Favourite charger. He carried his master the Hon. Godfrey Morgan, Captain 17th Lancers boldly and well at the Battle of Alma, in the first line of the Light Cavalry Charge of Balaclava and the Battle of Inkerman, 1854. He died at Tredegar Park February 6th 1874. Age 28 years.

The Heno programme is due to be broadcast on Wednesday (16th January) evening on S4C and after that via their website on the Clic player with English subtitles available.


A Tale of Two Tredegars

The National Trust Poster for Tredegar House’s Housewarming Party.

The above poster has been spotted on buses, bus shelters and billboards around South East Wales and has provoked a few comments – especially in the town of Tredegar and the City of Newport.  To the Project Team at Tredegar House, “I Love Tredegar” is a snappy little phrase that can be attached to campaigns and advertisement for lots of events and activities. The House and grounds are referred to simply as Tredegar. However, beyond the walls of the House, Gardens and Park the common usage for the name Tredegar has , for more than a century, alluded to the town at the Heads of the Valleys. This is causing some confusion now; only a little to be honest though. Occasionally in the past, some coach parties have found themselves in the birthplace of Aneurin Bevan and I do wonder if the recently restored Bedwellty House is benefiting from the advertising campaign.  With Google maps, Sat Nav and a eye on the road signs this shouldn’t really be a problem these days.

So why the two Tredegars? Visitors to Tredegar House often ask why the House is named after the Blaenau Gwent town. The answer is simple. It is not. Tredegar House is a Restoration period mansion with an even older Tudor wing. Indeed there seems to have been an earlier building on the site too. There are Fourteenth Century references to a Tredegar on the site and Medieval pottery has turned up. Until the Industrial Revolution was in full swing there was only one Tredegar; and that was at the bottom of the valley not at its head.

Samuel Homfray was a successful industrialist from a family of successful industrialists. Having made his mark at Penydarren Ironworks he moved to fresh ventures. In 1793 he had married Mary Jane, daughter of Sir Charles Morgan of the Tredegar Estate. When Richard Fothergill and Matthew Monkhouse looked to build a new Ironworks further down the Sirhowy Valley, they realised that Homfray would be an advantageous business partner. The land they had their eyes on for the new works  belonged to Sir Charles and favourable terms for a 99 lease were agreed upon in 1799. The Tredegar Iron Company began work in 1800 on the site and the first three furnaces were completed within a couple of years. Homfray seems to have thought it only right that they should name the Ironworks after his wife’s home – Tredegar! A public house, the Tredegar Arms, was soon opened nearby as well as workers houses, a tram road and a “Company Shop”. Other shops, more houses, chapels and churches, roads and tramways followed over the next ten years and the town of Tredegar was becoming well established.

Before long this town was more well known than the estate after which it was named and it became important in its own right. A. J. Cronin’s novel The Citadel, was based on his experiences working with Tredegar Medical Aid Society. The Society is rightly regarded as being the model, or a blueprint, for the National Health Service, and of course Tredegar’s most famous son was its architect Aneurin Bevan.

I think it’s quite OK for us to love both Tredegars. Both important in different ways.


Tredegar House Opens on April the Fourth

On Wednesday, the National Trust’s latest property will be opening its doors to the public. Tredegar House had been in the care of the local authority, Newport City Council, for nearly forty years. When they took the House on it was in a dreadful condition and decades of Restoration projects began to bring the property back to its former glory. The Morgan family, who had lived on the site for over five hundred years, had sold up in 1951 and most of its contents sold off. Newport Council, with help from many quarters, managed to re-acquire many pieces and some of them will still be on show. The Council still own Tredegar House, but a unique partnership finally agreed to earlier this year means that the running of the House and its grounds will be the responsibility of the National Trust.

There have been some changes, and there will probably be a lot more. The House will benefit from the expertise in preservation and presentation that the Trust can bring. Indeed, over the last few months a small army of experts have minutely inspected the House and its contents and have come up with some interesting ‘finds’. Hopefully, I will be able to mention some of these in future posts.

A personal worry for me, previously a Council employed Tour Guide and Facilitator, was the intention to abandon guided tours. However, for the past month I have been kept very busy in my new role as a National Trust Visitor Experience Assistant. I have been preparing a group of rooms that we will show dressed as they may well have been in 1897, when Godfrey Morgan lived at Tredegar House.

As Captain Godfrey Morgan of the 17th Lancers, he had survived the Charge of the Light Brigade. In 1875 he inherited the Tredegar Estates from his father and became the second Baron Tredegar. Godfrey was probably the most popular and best loved of the Lords Tredegar. Known as Godfrey the Good he was renowned for his benevolence and philanthropy. On the other hand, he could afford to. Some estimates have put the value of the estate he left behind on his death in 1913 at ten million pounds. The journey his body took to its resting place in Bassaleg was the closest that Newport has come to experiencing a state funeral.

He treated his staff well and this seems to have engendered a strong feeling of loyalty. One of those loyal servants was the Butler. The Butler’s Pantry is another room that I have been responsible for, and my colleagues and I have been dressing it so that visitors don’t have to worry too much about damaging original items. You can polish the silver, brush his Lordship’s top hat, buff up his boots – or just watch other people working instead.

If you want to hear more about Godfrey Morgan, come along to Tredegar House. Either myself, or a colleague will be giving short talks on Victorian Tredegar in the Side Hall and Morning Room. If it gets so busy that it is not practical to do the talk (which is a possibility), just come and ask me about it!

Tredegar House will open on the fourth of April 2012, 11.30 until 4pm (last admission), seven days a week!


Evan Morgan and the 1930s Suite.

Although I have fallen behind on my updates relating the progress of the Spring Clean at Tredegar House, the Clean itself has carried on apace with only the kitchen areas remaining. There is much more happening at the House now, and I have found myself in a new position. When I last posted on this Blog I was a Tour Guide for Newport City Council. Since Saint David’s Day I have been aVisitor Experience Assistant with the National Trust and last week the other Tredegar House staff donned the NT fleeces and polo shirts as the takeover finally happened on March the Nineteenth.

In the meantime I thought I would mention a few rooms that have been spruced up. The King’s Room (and accompanying bathroom), Red Room and the Blue Room were actually cleaned several weeks ago. These rooms will be on view more or less as they are now, when the House opens to the public on the fourth of April (although you may have to book a place on a mini-tour included in the admission fee – please, check before you come to visit us).

The King’s Room recently appeared on the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs, when it was depicted as a hotel room full of high-ranking Nazis. In the Nineteen Thirties and Forties it was actually the bedroom of Evan Morgan, Viscount Tredegar.  Evan was a man with very catholic tastes and, indeed, with a taste for Catholicism. You won’t find his grave in the family plot at the nearby St. Basil’s Church; his remains are at Buckfast Abbey. Evan had converted to Catholism in 1919 and even became a Private Chamberlain of the Sword and Cape to Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI. A portrait of Evan in his Papal robes hangs in the adjoining bathroom.

Evan Morgan was quite a party animal, and you can hear some of the stories about him, his menagerie, his fascination with the occult and the women in his life on the mini-tour of this suite of rooms.

From the King’s Room, past the Bathroom and then into the Red Room. For a while this was the bedroom of Evan Morgan’s second wife, Olga Dolgorouky. His first wife, Lois Sturt, had died while staying with friends in Hungary.  The Room has been restored to its former state by Newport Council, the Damask wall covering’s colour gives the room its name and the same applies to the adjoining Blue Room (a sitting room-cum-dressing room) which is again part of the mini-tour.

The idea is that we will be presenting these rooms to feel as if Evan is still there.

A couple of years ago, a clairvoyant kindly remarked that from the way I talked about Tredegar House I must of lived there in a previous life. I jokingly replied that I hoped it wasn’t as Evan. “Oh no, dear”, was her reply “He’s still here”.

I do wonder at times.


The Best Chamber.

The Best Chamber

The Best Chamber at Tredegar was the bedroom for the very best guests. If you were put in here for the night you were someone special. Since the Eighteenth Century the Best Chamber has been accessed via an upstairs corridor ending at the door in the picture. However, the corridor did not exist prior to that. It was created by erecting walls through the bedrooms. The only way for the best guests to get to their bedroom had been through the other bedrooms – enfilade, the French style.  The bed you see in the photograph to the right is a mock up. The bed that was here is believed to have measured nine square feet and was the state bed; probably the one that Disraeli and his wife spent the night in.  Sadly, when Tredegar House became a school in the Fifties, the bed seems to have been broken up and adapted for use as an altar and altar rails for the school chapel.

The panelling in the Best Chamber is original, as is the ceiling. The Best Chamber ceiling is one of only two (possibly three) surviving from the Seventeenth Century. The ornate plasterwork seems to be very similar to that of the one in the New Hall which had collapsed in the school years.

The Seventeenth Century Ceiling

The Best Chamber became a family bedroom by the Twentieth Century, and when Princess Olga Dolgorouky married Viscount Tredegar in 1939 this was known as the Pink Room, probably because of its faded red damask walls. It was not a happy marriage or a very long one (it was annulled) and twelve years later the Sisters of Saint Joseph transformed the bedroom into a classroom. Newport Council bought the House in 1974 and began an extensive restoration project. It was decided to restore the Best Chamber to its original Seventeenth Century splendour, as it would have been for the special guests of William and Blanche Morgan of Tredegar Park.