Llewarch Hen

Llewarch the Old, ancient prince and bard, is supposed to have lived in a hut at Dolguog in the 7th century. He apparently wrote one of the first poetic addresses in the Welsh language - "To the cuckoo in Abercuawg".

Owain Glyndwr

He warrants a page of his own. Enter here.

Dafydd Gam

Dafydd Gam (Dafydd ap Llywelyn ap Hywel) was reputedly imprisoned in Royal House after he failed to assassinate Owain Glyndwr. He was released only to die some time later at the Battle of Agincourt, where he was knighted. Royal House was built in the 12th century, and is called "Royal" because Charles I was supposed to have stayed there in 1644.

Hywel Swrdwal

Hywel was a bard of Norman descent, present on the Machynlleth scene in the15th century. "Gwaith Hywel Swrdwal a'i Feibion" (The Work of Hywel Swrdwal and his Sons) is published by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, ISBN: 0947531904, and "their poetry typifies that of the fifteenth century. For the most part it consists of eulogy and elegy, and it is evident that the family identified with a class of Marcher nobility with Yorkist loyalties and local familiy ties".


Llawdden, a famous Welsh Bard, was priest at Mach 1440-1460. Lewis Meredith of Cemmaes wrote in his poem Dyffryn Dyfi:

"Whilst fair Machynlleth decks thy quiet plain
Conjoined with it shall Lawdden's [sic] name remain."

There's a story I've read somewhere that there was a dispute over a woman between Llawdden and Ieuan ap Hywel. Surely not, with him being a priest?

Can't find much out about him, which is a bit of a pity, but a person named M. G. Headley carried out a translation of his poetry in 1938, a copy of which is in the National Library of Wales.

Hugh Williams, Gelligoch.

Hugh was born in 1796 at Gelligoch, just to the south of Machynlleth, and he forms an interesting link with the Rebecca Riots, which took place in 1842/43. The rioters expressed their disgust at having to pay turnpike tolls in SW Wales by smashing down the hated, and frequently illegal, tollgates. In order to preserve anonymity, they used to blacken their faces and wear women's dresses, and one explanation is that the term "Rebecca" derived from the name of one particularly large lady of that name who lent her dress to a Rioter of similar dimensions. However, later on, a fitting quotation from the Bible was adopted: "And they blessed Rebecca, and said unto her, let thy seed possess the gates of those that hate thee."

Be that as it may, Hugh Williams was by this time a lawyer in Carmarthen, and he defended the rioters free of charge when they came to court. Furthermore, he also defended them in the newspapers, and people in high places were very suspicious that he was the guiding light behind the entire movement. Hugh had good connections, as his brother-in-law was Richard Cobden, one of the leaders of the Reform Party in Parliament and the founder of the Anti-Corn Law League.

Read more at: http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/CMN/Llanedi/Education.html

The Londonderrys

The Londonderrys and their association with the town warrant their own pages. Enter here.

http://www.proni.gov.uk/records/private/theresa.htm     has lots of information on the Londonderry family and their connections with Machynlleth.

George Borrow

On his travels in 1854, George had this to say about the town:

"It is situated nearly in the centre of the valley of the Dyfi amidst pleasant green meadows, having to the north the river, from which, however, it is separated by a gentle hill. It possesses a stately church, parts of which are of considerable antiquity, and one or two good streets. It is a thoroughly Welsh town, and the inhabitants, who amount in number to about four thousand, speak the ancient British language with considerable purity."

Beatrix Potter

The famous writer of the Peter Rabbit books visited Machynlleth in 1888 when she was very young, and had this to say about the town:

"May 13: Went with Mamma and Papa to Machynlleth, Merioneth. From Euston to Stafford by Holyhead Mail all very well, but the Welsh Railways are past description. Four hours to go sixty miles between Shrewsbury and Machynlleth. When mushrooms are in season the guard goes out to pick them. Machynlleth, wretched town, hardly a person could speak English. Wynnstay Arms, to which we were directed, closed these two years. Lion, only other, a singular place."

"Countryside most beautiful, but on rather a large scale for getting about."

"Welsh seem a pleasant intelligent race but I should think awkward to live with. The children exceedingly pretty, black or red, with clear complexions and bright blue eyes. The middle-aged are very plain but the old people are better. The language is past description."

Michael Faraday

Later to be famous Michael Faraday took a tour through the area in 1819 and, referring to the now lost route between Ponterwyd and Machynlleth, said it had:

(1) no roads,
(2) no houses,
(3) no people,
(4) rivers but no bridges,
(5) plenty of mountains.

He and his companion, Magrath, stayed overnight in Machynlleth, and commented on the Dyfi's "pellucid current" and that there were "trout sparkling beneath the surface".

Owen Owen

Owen Owen (1847-1910) was the founder of a chain of department stores. He was born in Cwmrhaiadr, up above Glaspwll, and learned his trade in his uncle's drapery shop in Bath. In 1868 he established a major department store in Liverpool (still there), and continued to expand his considerable empire in Bath and London. He is buried in Machynlleth.

Royal Visitors

The Prince and Princess of Wales and other members of the royal family visited Machynlleth 25-27 June 1896, the town celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in June 1897, and Queen Victoria visited on 24 August 1889. King George V and Queen Mary, the Prince of Wales and Princess Mary all visited Machynlleth in June 1911.

Ted Lewis - 1901 baseball star and American educationalist.

Edward Morgan Lewis was born in Machynlleth on 25 Dec 1872, and at the age of 8 emigrated with his family to the USA, to settle in Utica, NY. He entered Williams College, Williamstown, MA, in 1893, and soon found popularity through his prowess as a baseball pitcher. He funded his post-graduate studies by means of a short but highly successful career in baseball, starting with the Boston Beaneaters and moving up to the American League in 1901 as a member of the first ever Red Sox team. He won their final game of the 1901 season on a shutout, the first in the history of the Boston Red Sox, and promptly retired from baseball. He was highly religious, wouldn't play baseball on a Sunday, and had even considered entering the ministry. He maintained a passion for eisteddfodau in America, and became firm friends with poet Robert Frost.

Having received his Master's degree in 1899, he taught elocution at Columbia 1901-1903, and then returned to Williams for 8 years to teach oratory. He twice, but unsuccessfully, ran for Congress as a Democrat (1911 and 1914). He spent some years at Massachusetts Agricultural College, spearheading its transformation into today's University of Massachusetts, and ultimately took the post of President of the University of New Hampshire, putting much effort into developing it. He died in May 1936 at the age of 63, and is buried in the Durham Community Cemetery.

Here's a photo from about 1901 of Ted and his family in Utica - Ted's on the left.

In recent years Machynlleth has marked his place of birth in the town.

More at: http://www.baseball-reference.com/l/lewiste01.shtml and http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=lewiste01
http://www.umass.edu/pastchancellors/lewis.html - includes a picture.

Syd Thomas - International Footballer

There's an entry in David Wyn Davies's fine book "A Pictorial History of Machynlleth", which I can't better: "Syd Thomas was the only Machynlleth born footballer to be capped for Wales at full international level[...] He signed professional forms for Fulham in the late 1930s. War service interrupted his career but he resumed at Fulham after the war and gained four caps for Wales on the right wing. He was transferred to Bristol City during the 1949-50 season but ill-health forced an early retirement and a return to the family business at Machynlleth." David Wyn Davies has subsequently writen up the Syd Thomas story.

Berta Ruck and Oliver Onions

Writer and novelist Berta Ruck (1879-1978) grew up at Esgair, near Pantperthog, had close family connections with Pantlludw, in the foothills just to the North of Machynlleth, and from the 1950s lived in Aberdyfi. She was a prolific writer, publishing more than 100 books over the course of her long life, including a large number of novels, and her family history in various volumes from 1967. Her aunt Amy was married to Charles Darwin's son, Frank. Her husband, well-known ghost story writer Oliver Onions (1873-1961), wrote many such books, but one in particular - "The Beckoning Fair One" - is apparently considered by many to be the best ghost story ever written. He pronounced his name "Own-EYE-ons", but this must still have worried him, because he later changed his name to George Oliver, reportedly to spare his children any embarrassment.

The University of Delaware Library's Special Collections Department holds Berta's 1928-1937 travel journals. See http://www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/findaids/ruck.htm

Sir John Philip Baxter FAA, FTSE

John Philip Baxter was born in Machynlleth in 1905. After obtaining his BSc and PhD at Birmingham University he pursued a career in the UK chemical industry until 1949, when he emigrated to Australia. He took up the post of Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of NSW, becoming Deputy Director in 1952, Director in 1953, and Vice-Chancellor 1955-1969. He was Chairman of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission 1957-72. He was awarded the OBE in 1945, CMG in 1959, and KBE in 1965. He died in 1989.

More at: http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/bsparcs/aasmemoirs/baxter.htm http://barney.asap.unimelb.edu.au/tia/tia-dynindex.php3?EID=P000211


Playwright N.C.Hunter was a latter day tenant of Pantlludw, who apparently did much of his writing during his time there. Very successful during the 1950s and early 60s he wrote, among other plays:

Waters of the Moon, a comedy/drama.
A Picture of Autumn, a comedy.
A Day by the Sea, “a Chekhovian drama", and a 1953 hit at the Haymarket, starring John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Irene Worth.
A Party for Christmas, 1956.
A Touch of the Sun, which brought Sir Michael Redgrave an Actor of the Year award in 1958.
A Piece of Silver, a 1960 production to open the brand new rep theatre at Cheltenham's Everyman.
The Tulip Tree, 1962, starring Celia Johnson, John Clements and Lynne Redgrave in her West End debut at the Haymarket.

He died in 1971, and is buried in the little chapel in Eglwysfach, a few miles down the road.

Walter Wilkinson

You might well ask "Who?", but he wrote an engaging series of books before and after the Second World War recounting his travels through the country, pushing his puppet show on a barrow, and his books depicting this lost world have something of a minor cult status. In his 1948 book "Puppets in Wales" (published by Geoffrey Bles, London), he devotes a whole page just to trying to pronounce "Machynlleth", recounts how he tried to get a newspaper from Smith's (long gone, I'm afraid) and then from the corner shop. He found the tobacconist's shop a melancholy sight as it had no stock (post-war rationing still), rather liked the "ancient elixirs, nostrums and cure-alls" in the chemist's, and admitted to growing fond of the town, with the "simple dignity of its tree-planted, wide streets, grey houses and inns, [and] of the glimpses of the green hills between the buildings".

Despite the fact that "everybody was hopping about, getting in and out of buses, mounting or dismounting from bicycles, going in and out of shops, and the traffic constable danced a ballet" (traffic constable? - it'd take a brave constable to step in front of the traffic these days) he suspected that you could have a very pleasant country-town holiday in Machynlleth - and that is still very true.

He left the town via "a crumbling bridge over the River Dovey,...where kine were standing in the water", and in some ways it's a relief that this, at least, hasn't changed since his time.

If you ever find this book in a secondhand bookshop, do buy it.

Richard Nixon

US President Richard Nixon was descended from a 17th century owner of Llynlloedd farm. Not a lot of people know that - and even fewer seem to publicise the fact!

Emrys James

The actor Emrys James was born in Machynlleth and lived at 46 Maengwyn St during his childhood, where today there's a commemorative plaque. He attended Machynlleth County School during the 1940s, where he was noticed for his acting talent, and from there he went on to become a professional actor. He appeared on television as early as 1960 but by 1968 had joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), staying with them until1984. During his years with the RSC he also appeared in many TV drama productions, and - let's get things in perspective here - made two appearances in Dr. Who, something to which all serious British actors aspired. TV and film work seems to have rolled in right through the 70s and 80s, and he also took part in a remake of Dylan Thomas's radio play "Under Milk Wood" in 1988. He died in 1989 and, although Machynlleth Library remembers him with a few photographs and notes, I can't yet find anything more about him. Here's a partial CV:

Appeared in a B&W TV drama entitled "At Home".
Member of RSC.
Appeared in the RSC's "glorious failure at the Aldwych Theatre, the kind of luxury that only a great national theatrical institution can afford" - Günter Grass's "The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising". "Of the actors, Emrys James as the Boss is superb".
In a pilot episode of Ronnie Barker sampler TV comedies "Seven of One".
Co-starred with Ian McKellern in "Dr. Faustus" at The Edinburgh Festival and later at the Aldwych. In "Henry IV Part II" at the Aldwych. His role in this was said to be "disconcertingly mannered" by one critic, but "dignified, mellow" by another.
Nominated as "Actor of the Year in a Revival" for his role in "Henry IV"/"Henry V" (RSC at the Aldwych)
Appeared in a TV production of "The Man in the Iron Mask" featuring, among others, Richard Chamberlain and Patrick McGoohan.
Appeared in the RSC's Aldwych production of the Henry VI trilogy. ("Part Three...fine performances from...Emrys James as the power-hungry York.")
In a TV drama "Testament of Youth".
Appeared in Dr. Who as Aukon in "State of Decay", where one reviewer stated "All is not lost. Emrys James rises above the lines he's given to turn in a mesmerising performance as possibly the season's best villain."
In a BBC/Time-Life production of "Hamlet" in starring Derek Jacobi.
Had a part in a Hammer Horror film, "The Mark of Satan", with Peter McEnery and Georgina Hale.
In an episode of Ronnie Barker's TV series, "Open All Hours".
Played Enobarbus in a BBC TV production of "Anthony and Cleopatra".
Appeared in "Eureka", with Gene Hackman.
Appeared in sci-fi film, "Dragonslayer".
In "Giro City", with Glenda Jackson.
Appeared in "And Nothing But The Truth", with Glenda Jackson.
Nominated as "Actor of the Year in a Revival" for his role in "A New Way To Pay Old Debts" (RSC at The Pit).
Left the RSC.
Appeared in a BBC TV adaptation of "Anna of the Five Towns" by Arnold Bennett.
Appeared in "The Sign of Four", an ITV Sherlock Holmes drama, starring Jeremy Brett.

In a Granada TV detective series, "Bulman".
In a BBC TV version of "The Diary of Anne Frank".
Had a part in "Under Milk Wood", a re-make of the famous radio play which had originally starred Richard Burton, this time with Anthony Hopkins and just about every Wesh actor/actress you've ever heard of.
Appeared in a BBC TV drama "Out of Love".

David Russell Hulme

In 2010 I met David again after a gap of some 45 years, and learned from him that he was seriously into music. What an understatement! On returning home I Googled him and was impressed by his CV. Dr. Hulme is Director of Music at Aberystwyth University, and has been described in Opera magazine as the "leading authority on Sir Arthur Sullivan's manuscripts". He conducts orchestras all over the world, and one of his recordings made it to No.3 in the classical music charts.

For a much fuller account of his achievements, see his Wikipedia entry and Aberystwyth University's website.

Laura Ashley

The great empire started very humbly in Mach during the 1960s, and went on to establish branches all over the world. This is the house she and her husband Bernard lived in with their two children, and where they initially produced simple white linen tea-towels featuring Victorian advertisements. And the town has now put up a commemorative plaque.

Led Zep woz 'ere...

There are a number of local connections with Led Zeppelin (see also my notes on Cwm Einion), and Robert Plant was certainly associated with Bron-yr-Aur, a cottage in the foothills above Dyfi Bridge, for many years.

Rock folklore says that Plant and Page spent much of 1970 at this cottage writing Led Zep's 3rd and 4th albums. The name of the cottage is therefore very fitting: Bron-yr-Aur means Hillside of Gold. (To this very day, on a summer's evening after the pubs close, you might find the occasional devoted fan puffing up the steep hill to Cwm Gila playing air guitar - or maybe they're just waving their arms around trying to keep the midges away...)

http://www.ledzeppelin.ws/prox/ratner.html has a pic of the actual house.


Here's a good'n: Ffion, wife of the one-time leader of the Conservative Party and Foreign Secretary during the Cameron Government, William Hague, is the daughter of Emyr Jenkins, once Head Boy at Machynlleth County School (now entitled Ysgol Bro Ddyfi), and grand-daughter of Llewelyn Jenkins, who was my first headmaster at Machynlleth Junior School. How's about that for reflected fame?

Sir Thomas Williams Phillips GBE KCB (1883 - 1966)

Son of the Cemmaes schoolmaster, Tom attended Machynlleth County School and won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he earned himself a 1st Class BA Lit Hum degree, also winning the Gaisford prize for Greek prose. After joining the Civil Service in 1906, he worked initially on copyright law, and was called to the bar by Gray's Inn in 1913. He moved to the Ministry of Labour in 1919, remaining there for 25 years and later filling the post of Permanent Secretary (1935-1944).

A further move took him to the Ministry of National Insurance until 1948, becoming Chairman of the Central Land Board and the War Damage Commission, 1949-59. He was Chairman of the War Works Commission (1949-1964) and Chairman of the National Joint Council for Local Authorities, Administrative, Professional, Technical and Clerical Services (1951-1963).

He was awarded the CBE in 1918, the CB in 1922 (advanced to KCB in 1936), made a KBE in 1934 (advanced to GBE in 1946). He was made an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford in 1948, and became a Commander of the Belgian Order of the Crown in 1946, the same year that he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Wales.


(My thanks to David Phillips in Australia for bringing his grandfather's name to my attention and to both Wikipedia and The Times obituary for extra details.)