Tag Archives: Tredegar House

Evan Morgan and the First World War

Eva Morgan with his father

Evan Morgan with his father

Earlier this year I was invited to give a talk to the Friends of Tredegar House and decided to look at the Tredegar Estate during the First World War. As is often the case when researching the Morgan family’s ancestral home, I was distracted by the activities of Evan Morgan. The following consists of  just a few random elements in the story of Evan’s war.

In 1913, Godfrey Morgan, first Viscount and second Baron Tredegar died with no offspring.  His nephew Courtenay Morgan inherited the entire estate. Courtenay, his wife Katharine and their two children; Evan Frederic and Gwyneth Ericka were something of a colourful family.

Courtenay took to messing about in boats when he bought himself a large ocean going steam yacht called the Liberty. The Liberty was certainly providing Lord Tredegar with much welcome distraction. When the new lock for the Alexandra Docks was opened in July, the ceremony was conducted on the Liberty by Prince Arthur of Connaught. Even Evan was on board for the occasion. A few weeks later the Liberty would be handed over to the Admiralty.

Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th of August.  Courtenay offered his yacht to the Admiralty and paid for it to be fitted out as a hospital ship and provided a crew. The new Lord Tredegar’s son and heir took a little longer to burst into action. Evan Morgan joined the newly formed Welsh Guards as a Second Lieutenant in June 1915.  This was most likely to have been his father’s idea than his own.

Evan’s army career became very unconventional and he spent more and more of it on sick leave. This allowed him more time for his art and poetry.  Even after leaving Oxford he was often to be found there and was an occasional guest of the Morrells at Garsington Manor. He was very keen to be part of the literati of the day whether with the Bloomsbury Group, or the Café Royal set.

 

Evan always looked ill. He had asthma and other complaints. In February 1916 he had pleurisy, a few months later he was operated on for an abscess in his ear and the following summer had damaged the cartilage in his knee. Evan began to receive a series of odd postings and attachments. These included being a King’s messenger (Carrying diplomatic papers to Embassies), finding himself on the staff of disgraced French General Robert Nivelle in North Africa and then back to convalesce in Oxford after some malady.

robert_graves

Robert Graves

This would be the chance for another opportunity to get an invite to Garsington Manor and a chance to rub shoulders with the in-crowd.  It was probably on one such trip that he met with Robert Graves who had been hospitalised after being wounded in France.  They had been canoeing together and the meeting would prove to be a very useful one to Graves some months later.

Robert Graves and fellow poet Siegfied Sassoon were both serving officers in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Sassoon had been decorated for bravery, but was becoming increasingly disillusioned. He too was a visitor to Garsington and it may well have been on the trips that he was persuaded to write an open letter which was widely distributed and appeared in the press, condemning the war and announcing his refusal to take further part in it. Graves knew this would mean Court Martial and at least prison which he doubted Sassoon would survive. Therefore he got in touch with Evan to see if he could use his Cabinet contacts for Sassoon to be deemed medically unfit instead. Evan succeeded.

At the beginning of 1917 Evan was in Whitehall, working for William Bridgeman in the Ministry of Labour in Lloyd George’s coalition Government. He was also doing his best to ingratiate himself with Lloyd George and had an idea that he could be the War Cabinet’s adviser on literature.  He had also begun to form a relationship with Lloyd George’s personal secretary( and mistress), Frances Stevenson. Frances was already friendly with Lady Tredegar and had been a visitor at the newly acquired Honeywood House. Evan latched on too and there are hints of a possible relationship at one point.

 

Evan’s sister, Gwyneth had entered the war briefly too. The creation of the Wrens attracted her as a modern woman. And she signed up to be an Admiralty driver on the 16th of September 1918. She went on sick leave on the 28th and was discharged as medically unfit on the 6th of November. Five days  later the War was over.

Evan resigned his commission and left the Welsh Guards (did anyone notice?) However, Herbert Creedy (Assistant to Secretary of the War Office) requested that Evan be kept in Paris for the Peace conference.  Here he tried to gain favour with Frances Stevenson again, but instead became something of an embarrassment. However, before we dismiss Evan as some cowardly upper class idiot, it is worth remembering that some of the roles he performed required some amount of responsibility and discretion.

Evan’s First World War was unconventional and somewhat bizarre; his involvement in the Second World War seems to have been a rather odd affair too. However, I will leave that to others who have researched much more deeply than I have.

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A New Season at The House

I didn’t spend much time at Tredegar House during the 2013 Season (even then I was mainly in the office) but managed to put in an appearance at the Christmas event. The 2014 Season has begun with the opening of the Downstairs areas and some short tours Upstairs. Volunteers have been taking visitors up the Bachelor Staircase and into the Master’s Bedchamber, Cedar Closet and the Cow Bathroom. An area of the House that has not been regularly open to the public since the National Trust took over the management of the property.

Also, we are all delighted to see the House Manager, Emily Price, return from her maternity leave. Emily has been a key member of the Tredegar House Team for some years now. She was the Tredegar House Curator under  Newport Museums & Heritage Service and came here from The Queen’s House in Greenwich.

Tredegar House had a curator as it was, and indeed still is, a museum. The House is one of several National Trust properties which have full museum accreditation. The National Trust was keen to ensure that we kept our accreditation following the handover. It serves as a reminder that there is even more to the place than the beautiful building itself, there is the Tredegar Collection too.

In addition to the parts of the Collection original to the House there are many items on loan from other museums and galleries and from private owners. One of these items is leaving Tredegar House.  The full length portrait of Henry Rich, first Earl of Holland by (or after) Anthony Van Dyck has been displayed in the stairwell of the Great Staircase for many years on a long term loan.

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The Cedar Closet at Tredegar House

I have to apologise for not updating this blog as often as I should. I hope to do more throughout the 2014 Season. With visitors already getting access to rooms such as The Cedar Closet, we are already getting queries that we have not had to deal with for a while. Last week I was asked about the painted glass Sun Dial and the name of the artist. I think that could be something for the next post.

The full Tredegar House experience begins on Saint David’s Day.


W. H. Davies

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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.


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.


Cardiff and the Morgans of Tredegar House

The family that lived at Tredegar House in Newport are usually associated with the old Monmouthshire. Quite right too, as the Morgans were one of the biggest landowners in the county. However, their lands extended far beyond that into Breconshire and Glamorganshire.  Indeed it has been said that Lord Tredegar could get on a horse in Cardiff and ride to Hereford without leaving Morgan land. The better known of the Glamorganshire holdings were around Ruperra Castle and its demesne, but much of the land between the Taff and the Rumney rivers belonged to the Morgans too.Godfrey Morgan Gorsedd Gardens

In the Fifteenth Century, Sir John Morgan of Tredegar Park had married Janet Matthew, the daughter and heiress of John Matthew of Llandaff. The Morgans had a knack of marrying well which helped ensure that the line continued, even when the male line failed. The Morgans spread throughout South East Wales. Although the main branch was at the Tredegar Park seat several important cadet branches were established throughout Monmouthshire, Breconshire and Glamorganshire.

Morgan,HenryFor Cardiffians, the best known are the Morgans at Llanrumney Hall. The most notorious being Captain Sir Henry Morgan. At least, this is one of several places that claim him and we shouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

In the Seventeenth Century, marriages with Glamorganshire families such as the Lewises of the Van near Caerphilly brought increased land and wealth. This is the period when large parts of Splott and Roath came into the Tredegar Estate. By the Nineteenth Century the Morgans were the biggest landowners in the Roath / Adamsdown area and when housing was being built the area known as Tredegarville came into being.

Tredegarville

When Godfrey Morgan became Lord Tredegar in 1875 . He became well known for his philanthropy and benevolance and gave much land for the public good. St Saviours and St German churches were built on land donated by him, as was the Tredegarville Baptist Church too. Parks were built on land give by Lord Tredegar too. Moorland Gardens, Roath Mill and Waterloo Gardens, Pengam Recreation Ground and part of Roath Park. His generosity was rewarded by him being made a Freeman of  Cardiff. In 1854 as a young Captain in the 17th Lancers, Godfrey Morgan had charged down the Valley of Death during the Battle of Balaclava.

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He was remembered as a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade with the erection of a bronze statue of him astride his charger on the 55th anniversary of the Charge. The statue, by Goscombe John, still stands in the Gorsedd Gardens outside Cardiff City Hall. Today, he overlooks Boulevard de Nantes.phone pix 4 037

There is much more to the story of the Tredegar Park Morgans and their Cardiff connections, which I hope to add to before long. Why is Godfrey’s war chest at Howell’s school for girls? What made Godfrey dress as Owain Glyndwr at Cardiff Castle? Why does a Lisvane pub have the Morgan crest as its sign? Watch this space!


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.


New Tenants in a Council House

Tredegar House has been a National Trust property for six months now. On March the sixteenth Newport City Council officially handed over the keys to the House and the Trust’s management commenced. I say management because the arrangement was, at the time, quite unique. The National Trust are not the owners; the House is leased from the Council. As, I’m afraid, I say on public tours, it is still a council house – it just has new tenants.

Things were a bit hectic, to say the least, when it was decided to open the House to visitors within three weeks. There had been plans formulated and decisions made beforehand of course. One thing that was certain was that the visitor route and entrance would have to be changed. The Seventeenth Century entrance would become the main way into Tredegar House for the first time in nearly a hundred and fifty years. Another huge change was that there would be no guided tours. Visitors would enter and experience the House in a free flow system and everything would be much more hands-on and approachable. This would be facilitated by National Trust volunteers acting as Meeters-and-Greeters and Room Hosts. The problem was that in an area with very few NT properties there was no army of volunteers to call upon and therefore a recruitment drive was initiated. Very soon we had a good core of about fifty people who were willing to give up their time to help us open the House. Currently we have around two hundred and fifty volunteers on the books with about seventy or eighty coming in on a very regular basis.

Some of the ‘veterans’ and staff at a party celebrating getting through the first month!

There were a couple of downsides to these decisions. The logistics of it all meant that eight of the refurbished rooms that had previously been opened for guided tours, had to be closed for the time being. The decision to make the House more family friendly with a hands-on approach necessitated the removal of many original pieces from display. However, this was the price we would have to pay for becoming more attractive to visitors. I have to say, it is quite a relief not to be continually worrying about antiques and furniture being touched and not having to keep telling people not to touch or lean or sit on items. In many ways, it all makes for a happier, friendlier and more welcoming Tredegar House. Indeed, that is the response of a good eighty per cent of the visitors who leave comments.

Visitor numbers are up. We had hoped to have forty thousand visitors in the first year and we have already had thirty four thousand, so it looks like we will easily achieve that target. Membership is going well too. However, for me the success story is the group of regular volunteers we have here now. As one of them, John, said to me “This place gets a hold on you. I love it. When I’m not actually here, I’m reading about the House and the family”.  I know what he means and he is far from being alone in thinking that.

Therefore, the new tenants of Tredegar House seem to have settled in and I suspect they will be resident for quite some time.