Tag Archives: Wales

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.


The National Trust’s Tredegar House is now open!

On Wednesday the National Trust opened the doors of Tredegar House to visitors. We had quite a week leading up to it. Several events had already been booked in during the run up to the handover by Newport City Council to the National Trust, and this meant that most of the changes had to wait until they were held. Paintings have been moved around, rooms have been reinterpreted, props and hands-on furniture have been brought in and more delicate items moved out. We have also changed the names of some of the rooms that we are showing in the styles of different periods. Therefore, the Brown Room is now the Dining Room, the Dining Room is now the New Parlour and the Morning Room is now the ….. well, we’re still thinking about that one. Most confusing for me is that the Staff Room is now the Mess Room.

The Brown Room was the C17th Dining Room. Photo by Monty Dart.

The Gilt Room was always the room that had retained most of its original decoration, but it always felt a little bare and so Venita Gribble (a professional film set designer) was brought in to make it all feel a bit more lived-in and to convey the idea of the opulence that would have greeted Seventeenth Century visitors to Tredegar House. Venita was responsible for dressing and furnishing the whole of the ground floor of the North West wing, in fact. A day bed is now in the centre of the Gilt Room and visitors can lie there admiring the wonderful ceiling.

A mirror next to the bed also allows visitors to view the ceiling without straining their necks. Photo by Monty Dart

The Gilt Room. Photo by Monty Dart

Before the National Trust took over the management of the House in March, Newport City Council had been involved in a huge programme of restoration and refurbishment.  Visitors could only view the House by guided tour (except on special “open days”), but there were over twenty rooms that had been brought back to life by the Council. Simon Jenkins said that it was “equal only to Powis among the great houses of Wales” and that it was “superbly repaired, furnished and displayed – though little marketed“.

Hopefully, the National Trust can address this last comment. Visitor numbers had dwindled. In 1983 over 200,000 people visited the grounds and 15,000 paid to go on guided tours of the House itself, and in 1985 the House tours attracted 20,000 visitors. These figures would seem to indicate that, as a visitor attraction, Tredegar House was going from strength to strength. So what went wrong? Why, as a tour guide last year, was I occasionally left looking for other jobs to do because  nobody at all had turned up for a tour? Why did visitors keep asking the question “Why haven’t we heard about this place before“? It has to be the lack of marketing again.  Another factor could well be that a visit to Tredegar House and Country Park had been a great family day out. Farm animals, boats on the lake etc. Bit by bit, many of these other attractions had disappeared. This is where the National Trust will make a huge improvement. Let’s get the families back, let’s see people coming down for the day and enjoying all the facilities and let’s make sure that everybody hears about Tredegar House and what a wonderful place it is. Yes, I am biased – but, justifiably so.

I quoted Simon Jenkins from his book “Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles” published by Allen Lane in 2008.


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!


Next Ye Best Chamber and the Passing Room

The Passing Room and Next Ye Best Chamber were the rooms that the best guests would pass through in order to enter their own bedroom for the night. The Best Chamber is at the end of the wing, and so there is some privacy here; no one passes through this room to access another.

Next Ye Best Chamber

Should the best guests have brought their own personal servants, they would be quartered in this small ante room located next ye best chamber. In the days before a bell system was installed at Tredegar House, servants needed to be within calling distance of their masters. Indeed, sometimes even in post-Tudor times some servants may have slept in the same room as their masters and mistresses, possibly at the foot of the bed. Click the link for a photo. http://www.gtj.org.uk/en/large/item/GTJ75170/

In later times the room that was next ye best would be used as a dressing room for the Best Chamber itself. The paintings currently hanging in here are not original to the Tredegar Collection and are, in the main, on loan.

The Passing Room

This was another guest room for much of the House’s history. These guests would not have had so much privacy as the best guests and their retainers would be passing to and fro as required.  http://www.peoplescollection.org.uk/Item/11619-the-passing-room-tredegar-house (The  link will take you to a picture of the Passing Room)

The colour scheme in here is rather dark and dull by today’s tastes; drab was used in bedrooms and guest rooms as, by candlelight,  it helped to accentuate the paintings and furniture that adorned these rooms. The over mantle painting is Seventeenth Century and depicts Apollo Pursuing Daphne. The gentleman to the left is John Morgan, the last in the male line, who died in 1792. When John died the Estate passed to his sister Jane and her husband Charles Gould. Charles adopted the family Arms and took the name of Morgan by Royal License.


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.