Ceri Shaw



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Category: Featured

BUY IT HERE 'Tryweryn: A New Dawn?'

tryweryn a new dawn front cover.jpg

Whatever the complexities surrounding the flooding of Cwm Tryweryn, the construction of Llyn Celyn is widely regarded as a decisive event in Welsh history. The story resonates with Welsh people like no other, and at last, after twenty years of research, author Wyn Thomas has written a detailed study of the story published by Y Lolfa, and questions many widely held views.

Two aspects of the Tryweryn story have attracted particular attention and comment in Wales: what is deemed to be Liverpool’s dubious justification for flooding Cwm Tryweryn and the traditional belief, often strenuously expressed, that the threatened Welsh-speaking community was united in opposing Liverpool’s reservoir construction project.  Tryweryn: A New Dawn?  powerfully challenges both of these deeply-held opinions. The use of extensive archival testimony convincingly demonstrates that Liverpool’s need to construct a reservoir to combat the city’s municipal water and employment problem is real and genuine.  As to the true extent of the cohesion felt by the threatened Welsh-speaking community in protesting Liverpool’s actions, compelling evidence is presented to challenge the existing legend – with Thomas offering an unprecedented voice to those from the former valley community who feel the time has come to put the record straight.

Wyn Thomas said: “After twenty years of research I have come to some conclusions that won’t please everyone – but I’ve interviewed scores of people and thoroughly researched the subject.  Consequently, I believe this book rectifies many of the existing and predetermined opinions which surround the flooding of Cwm Tryweryn, and gives a highly readable account of all that went on in the background and much that has happened since.”

Dafydd Wigley, in a foreword to the book has said that “this significant book deserves to be read by all who study the emergence of modern Wales”.

The book chronicles the controversial flooding of the Tryweryn Valley in North Wales by Liverpool in the 1960s to increase the city’s water supply. In the process of Liverpool constructing the reservoir a proud Welsh-speaking community was removed. There are complicated factors which govern such episodes and  Tryweryn: A New Dawn?  provides a balanced and nuanced appraisal of this contentious affair. 

Dr Wyn Thomas works freelance in academia, the media and as a respected songwriter and musician – releasing the album  Orion’s Belt  in 2022. His books  John Jenkins: The Reluctant Revolutionary?  (Y Lolfa, 2019) and  Hands Off Wales  (Y Lolfa, 2022) are considered essential reading for anyone with an interest in Welsh history and UK politics. He is married, has two daughters, and lives in Mid Wales. For more information see:  www.drwynthomas.com

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AmeriCymru: Hi Glenn and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce the Attic Film Festival for our readers?  

Glenn: The inaugural Attic Theatre International Film Festival is organised by the Attic Theatre, a group of artists, actors, writers, film-makers and technicians based in Newcastle Emlyn, West Wales, who are captivated by the medium of film. 

Our designated event team for ATIFF are;

Carole King: an artist, bookbinder and printmaker -and the reluctant leading lady in the film ‘Tatsuko’, which will be shown as part of the Sunday screenings. She holds a particular interest in narrative film and documentary material. 

Melanie Davies: an actor and playwright  who won the  2022 Cynon Valley Film Festival Director’s award for devising and acting in ‘Thoughtpolice 4891’. “As an actor/writer/director of theatre, it has always been the telling of the story that has excited and intrigued me. And it seems that with current technology we can hear and see stories now, that have been left untold. The democracy of film making is liberating for many voices and small film festivals like ours help to give audiences for those stories. Sharing a good story is a universal need it seems to me and participating in that is a great joy.               Peter Mount: is the theatre company’s  sound and visual effects technician and is a big fan of black and white film. ”Like millions of others, I’ve watched films all my life. We watch them to find out about the world and to see it through other people eyes. Life without the enrichment of film, would just be so much duller.”

Glenn Ibbitson: artist and former scenic artist for film and television, through which I enjoyed a brief acting scene with the late and much lamented Robin Williams -which oddly ended up on the cutting room floor, but that’s a story for another time. I hold a passion for silent film -the world’s only truly international language.

Visual interest is our shared criteria, though of course that is subjective; we felt that four directors could better able to argue the merits of each submission and prevent one personal taste predominating.

Together, our aim is to encourage excellence in film-making and to present the medium of movie to our audiences through a free weekend-long event. We invite submissions of short film from  a few seconds long [this is the age of TikTok after all] to a maximum running time of about 20 minutes. We are a genre fluid event with no particular theme. We already have submissions which are silent films, music videos, documentaries, animation. 

Our submission fee is kept at a nominal level. This is simply to cover festival expenses. We are not out to make a profit. 

Our main concern was to make this a free event for our visitors. The public can use this as a drop-in event; watch a couple of films, take a break and return for more , or stay for a whole day session. This guarantees that our selected filmmakers are showing their work to an actual live audience.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the venue - the Attic Theatre? 

Glenn: The theatre/cinema is sited in the elegant Grade Two listed Town Hall above the Market Buildings. The building dates from1892.

The raked auditorium itself has a capacity of 80. The plush seats were retrieved from a cinema in Pembrokeshire They give our audiences the authentic and comfortable theatrical experience. We have a digital projector and a large screen, so this is a genuine big-screen experience.

Attic Theatre Auditorium.JPG

AmeriCymru: How many entries are you aiming for and what are the competition categories? 

Glenn: We really don’t know how many entries to expect to be honest. The rate of submissions has accelerated in recent weeks; a viewing/selection process which last month seemed quite relaxed is now looking more like a task -one which as fans of film, we are more than happy to address.

Films considered for completion will be shown on Friday evening of the 13th October and Saturday 15th from 2pm-9pm. With intervals between hourly blocks of film, we expect to offer 6hours of film. Sunday is reserved for invited works and those made by colleagues at the Attic theatre. These have been excluded from competition to avoid any conflict of interest. This will comprise  another 4 hours or so of movie.

The Festival Categories eligible for awards are:

Best Made in Wales
Black & White

The ATiFF Award -this will be a film chosen for special mention by the co-directors of the festival.

The actual design of the award statuette has not been finalised as yet. We are split between a figurine and a stylised clapperboard! Watch this space for an update!

AmeriCymru: What is the deadline for the receipt of submissions? 

Glenn: August 19th for the regular deadline and September the 8th for the last minute deadline. This allows us just enough time to get a comprehensive festival programme to print.

AmeriCymru: Submissions are welcome from around the world, correct? 

Glenn: Yes; so far most submissions have been from the UK, but films have come in from  from Canada, the U.S, Japan, India -and Cardigan, which is 10 miles down the valley!

AmeriCymru: Will this become an annual event? 

Glenn: I would hope so; the impetus for this event -quite apart from our enthusiasm for film, was the feeling that our venue could be used for a greater variety of events throughout the calendar. My personal hope is that ATIFF can occupy a regular Autumn slot on an annual basis from now on.

AmeriCymru: Any clips that you would care to share? 

Glenn: We have no trailers as yet; it may be a little too early for that kind of pre-publicity, but we have stills from several submissions and invited films which I have enclosed [labelled with title and director’s name] together with photographs of the venue and posters.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru? 

Glenn: If you have a camcorder, if you have a stills camera with a movie mode option on its function dial, -if you have a mobile, you can make movie. If you think you have something to share with an enthusiastic audience, let’s see it -you could be walking off with an award come October. Ffilm hapus!

Emlyn Town Hall.jpg

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On my return trip from the West Coast Eisteddfod in L.A. in 2011 I was able to break my journey in Hornbrook, CA   and take some pictures of John Rees's grave and final resting place. Given that we know he was a stonemason in his youth, did he perhaps make it himself? Certainly it is one of the finest and best preserved monuments in the cemetary.

John Rees ( aka Jack the Fifer ) is topical because today ( Nov 4th ) is the anniversary of the ill-fated Chartist march on Newport in which he played a leading role..

The debate as to whether violence can be a legitimate method to secure political ends was one that occupied many physical and moral force Chartists in the 1830's and 40's. John Rees was a 'physical forcist'.

But why is the man who led the vanguard of an armed insurrection in South Wales buried in a small town in Northern California? Read on:-


Review of John Humphries 'The Man From The Alamo'

Everybody remembers the 5th of November - 'gunpowder, treason and plot', but what about the 4th? On this day in 1839 the last armed rising in British history took place in Newport , Gwent, South Wales. The following article is a review of a fascinating book, "The Man From The Alamo" by John Humphries. The book is, amongst other things, a partial biography of John Rees a.k.a Jack The Fifer, a hero of both the Texan War of Independence and The Newport Rising of 1839 .

John Humphries' "The Man from the Alamo" does not have much to say about that historic conflict, indeed Davy Crockett is only mentioned once, briefly, on page 91. What it does have to say, however, goes a long way toward answering some of the most intriguing questions about John Rees, a great Welsh-American and man of mystery. Much more can now be said of him than was possible before Mr. Humphries' painstaking research.John Rees ( a.k.a Jack The Fifer ) was born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1815 and died in Hornbrook , Northern California in 1893 . Sometime before he was twenty he immigrated to the United States. He was 20 years old when he volunteered for service with the Second Company of the New Orleans Greys in October 1835. Born of working class parents in South Wales in the early 19 century it is likely that he endured the almost obligatory period of child labour in one of the many local collieries or Ironworks . Given that he was an accomplished fife player it is also possible that he saw some military service with the British army in his teens.

He took part in the siege of San Antonio De Bexar in 1835, and fought at the battle of Coleto Creek in 1836. Following the capture of Colonel James Fannin's command after the battle he was one of only 28 survivors of the infamous Goliad massacre in which more than 300 Texan prisoners were killed. He was later recaptured and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner . After the Mexican defeat at San Jacinto he was released in April or May, 1836. Upon his release he rejoined the army and was honourably discharged later that same year. The traditional account of his subsequent activities has been largely undermined by the books author. It was long thought that John Rees collected his back pay and land-bounty entitlements and returned immediately to Wales where we know that he was employed as a mason at the Tredegar Ironworks in 1839.

The book adduces substantial evidence to suggest that John Rees claimed not one, but several land bounty entitlements and that he spent the better part of two years actively swindling the infant Republic of Texas which he had recently fought so bravely to establish. Lest anyone should think any the less of him for this, it must be pointed out that he was not alone. Submitting bogus land bounty claims was a very prevalent and fashionable vice amongst ex-soldiers of the Republic at this time; rather like cocaine abuse in the 1980's and wife-swapping in the 1970's.

Upon his return to Wales Rees almost immediately became involved in the Chartist movement which at that time was agitating for the acceptance of the famous Six Points listed below (1). He played a key role in the bloody events of the 4th of November 1839. It lies beyond the scope of this review to recount the details of the rising but the following link may help with the background details:- The Newport Rebellion 1839 . There are almost as many theories concerning the intentions of the marchers at Newport as there are books on the subject. Some of the most important works are listed in the footnotes (2). Mr Humphries book seeks to examine the events from the perspective of the role they played in the lives of two of the leading participants. More than fifty percent of the book deals with the life of Zephaniah Williams, a prominent Chartist leader, and the chapters dealing with his subsequent trial and transportation are indeed fascinating but the major premise of the work is that it was John Rees who assumed the mantle of leadership at the key moment on that fateful day.

There has been much debate concerning the intentions of the marchers. It has been suggested that the original plan for an armed insurrection had been amended and that nothing more than a peaceful demonstration was intended. If so, did John Rees acquiesce in the change of plan? Did John Rees fire the first shot at the Westgate and if he did was he acting unilaterally or with the full premeditation of the other Chartist leaders? What is certain is that he was at the head of the column as it approached the hotel and that he was accompanied by a hundred or more men armed with muskets, shotguns and assorted firearms ( most of the marchers were armed with pikes). It was John Rees who , pistol in hand, demanded the release of the Chartist prisoners held within , a demand which precipitated the bloody melee in the hotel foyer. This in turn prompted the soldiers secreted in the hotel lobby to throw open the shutters and fire into the tightly packed crowd in the street outside.

Whatever his intentions, his actions led to a charge of high treason being brought against him and a reward of one hundred pounds being offered for his capture. John Rees escaped to Newfoundland and subsequently to an unknown location in Virginia thus avoiding the awful fate of John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones who were captured, tried, found guilty of high treason and ultimately transported to the British penal colonies in Tasmania. The details of his escape are recounted by none other than John Rees himself! In 1841 he wrote two letters to the editor of the Cambrian newspaper in west Wales. They were not published until 1844 . Humphries quotes extensively from these letters and it is from them that we know that Rees settled in Virginia for a period of five years where he stayed with unidentified friends.

In 1846 we find him back in Texas serving with the military; this time with the Texas Rangers. It is highly likely that he was captured and subsequently released at a very early stage in the U.S-Mexican War of 1846-48. He emerges in late 1846 in Matamoros, Mexico doing one last "shady" deal which involved the sale of his last remaining land donation certificate. This transaction was fraudulent because the certificate in question could not legally be sold during the recipient's lifetime.

For the rest of his life Rees almost certainly lived in Northern California to which he was drawn by the initial fervour of the California gold rush . At some point he became an American citizen and he appears on both the 1870 and 1880 census. He died of natural causes in Hornbrook in 1893.

In conclusion it must be said that John Humphries has written a very powerful book about two extraordinary men. John Rees was a great Welsh-American who was a hero, of sorts, on both sides of the Atlantic. His remarkable penchant for placing himself in difficult and dangerous situations was only matched by his genius for self-preservation. It is to be hoped that much more remains to be discovered about the life of this colorful and admirable character
The book may be purchased here The Man from the Alamo


(1) This version of the Six Points is taken from a contemporary leaflet featured in British Working Class Movements: Select Documents 1789-1875 edited by GDH Cole and AW Filson (Macmillan, 1951).

1. A VOTE for every man twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
2. THE BALLOT .--To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
3. NO PROPERTY QUALIFICATION for members of Parliamentthus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
4. PAYMENT OF MEMBERS , thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
5. EQUAL CONSTITUENCIES , securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors,--instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones.
6. ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS , thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

(2) Two of the most important and recent works on the Chartist Rising.

"South Wales and the Rising of 1839" Ivor Wilks University of Illinois Press 1984 ISBN 0-252-01146-5

"The Last Rising: The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839" David J. V. Jones University Of Wales Press; New edition (March 28, 1999) ISBN 070831452X

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