Thursday 14 November 2013

WAUN DDYFAL - The Battle of Mynydd Bach 1799 by Gethin Gruffydd

Waun Ddyfal

The Battle of Mynydd Bach, Little Heath.

Summer 1799.

Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales .


During the 18th Century Wales was to witness a massive move to enclose land previously thought of as marginal and of little agricultural use unless such regarded long as Common Land for which there was use for the Cattle, Horses and Sheep to graze upon usually seen as a right of ‘Commoners’ for most part Small farmers and Small Holders. Many of these small holders were in fact deemed as Squatters though many of them regarded themselves as possessing their land by traditional right of Tai Unnos of which by the latter part of the 18th century had increased in a major Peasant land occupation to such an extent that when the Government pushed through and pressed on with it’s Enclosure laws the landed gentry and large farmers were to the fore in seeking to extend their land holdings at expense of the peasantry and thence by the latter part of the 18th Century the peace of Wales was shattered by Enclosure riots one of which would take place at Waun Ddyfal* otherwise known as Little Heath on a vast area of Common and Marginal land known as the Great Heath to the North of Cardiff.

              Waun Ddyfal (Little Heath) for a short time would take over from Gallows Field on the Great Heath as the execution site prior to building of Cardiff Prison with also associated new Execution Site near present day Market in St Mary Street. This being location where in 1831 Dic Penderyn was executed by hanging, often called Wales’ first working Class Martyr but ignoring fact that prior to his execution Wales had witnessed the ‘Judical Murder’ of two previous Working Class Martyrs, they being Samuel Hill and Arron Williams in 1800 for participation in a major Food Riot in a Merthyr Tudful. Wales in this period of 1795 to 1800 was to become a land of Corn Riots that against back ground of the French Revolution was to cause great concern. I am at moment writing up on the 1800 Merthyr Riot which I will publish to my Pitchfork and Pike Blog in due course as well as in Yr Aflonyddwch Mawr Blog. In the mean time for further reading on Enclosure and Corn Riots read the excellent Book Before Rebecca by D.V.Jones and an article in Welsh History Review on Corn Riots Vol 2 No 4 1965 also by D. V.Jones. Much of the below is sourced from an article I had copied some time back but forgot to note the source. It was if I remember correctly a Cardiff History Book and the Info below comes from Part III The Reformed Borough 1836 – 1914. My thanks to all sources.

11th June – 29 October 1799.

The Great and Little Heaths are to the North of Cardiff and much Common Land used to pasture out animals there upon and otherwise used for it’s timber and foraging for food as nuts, berries and Mushrooms as well as the collection of fire wood and ferns for Pillows and Matresses. Overtime much of this Heath land was being leased out and upon expiry off lease such was sold off as plots to those with the money to bid for such as by Llandaf Lawyer Thomas Edwards in 1763 on behalf of Dowager Lady Windsor for custody of the Great Heath. This bid sought the removal of houses (Tai-unnos), their hedges and privileges on Mynydd Bach, a little hill upon the Heath. This bid failed but towards end of the 18th century the Enclosure Laws made land Grabbing a rewarding preoccupation of the rich, not least the Marquis of Bute who in 1797 who took out a possession order against 12 persons who had encroached upon the Heath by means of employing method of traditional Tai-unnos land possession. This time judgment was in favour of the Marquis  and thus an enactment order upheld and on  11th June the order was put in force by the Sherriff and the Cavalry called in to deal with an hostile crowd which for two hours resisted the possession of their land and destruction thereof. The people both men and women had armed themselves with stones, sticks and pitchforks, but the cottage around which a riot was taking place was set alight by the Authorities whilst other plots were occupied by the Sherriff, assistants and Cavalry seeking to evict the occupants from their Tai-unnos.

It was said the Women in particular fought like ‘Amazons’ but all to no avail as by the days end eight of the ‘resistants’ had agreed to vacate the land but four ‘Squatters’ continued to resist and would not leave. However, on 30 June the Sheriff returned with his assistants and workmen to tear down the Tai-unnos, burn their hedges and destroy boundary ditches. To ensure this enclosure was ‘Sign, Sealed and Delivered’ to the Marquis of Bute the Sherriff returned on 29 October with a force of Caerphilly Volunteers but they were not needed as the last ‘hold outs’ quietly left their land. The story does not end there for the Marquis of Bute would take full possession of this land as by right of enclosure accepted by Cardiff Council in 1800 on the strong recommendation of John Wood a Cardiff Solicitor who had been on 6 March 1789 made Town Clerk. By 1800 – 1801 the Enclosure Act was passed for enclosing the Heaths this land then parceled out as allotments to be rented out or sold off to the benefit of Bute and Cardiff Corporation.

As for Wood his reward re above was to be made a Capital  Burgess but that was not the end of it as Wood had already in 1785 and 1788 taken lease upon Cottage and Garden known as ‘The Cut Throats’, the ‘Gallows Field’ and later ‘Cae Pwdr’ (Former execution site, not least of two Catholic Martyrs in the 17th Century and today known as ‘Death Junction’ due to number of fatal road accidents in the area). John Wood and later his Sons would greatly aggrandize themselves in land grabbing and taking possession of properties on and around the Heaths, so much so it is a significant story in itself as to how postion and privilege provides the power to make one self excessively rich but that is another story.  Suffice to say to conclude that another Wood of the same family was to gain an Enclosure of land on the Little Heath (Wuan Ddyfal). There is of course an area of Cardiff known as Woodville today the above are the foundations of this area. None of this helps me to determine where the two Miners Samuel Hill and Aaron Williams Merthyrs Food Riot Martyrs were executed in 1801 if by 1799 both locations suggested in this article had been possessed for other purpose and  as Cardiff Jail and new execution site not yet ready where were the two ‘Merthyr Martyrs’ of the 1800 Corn Riot executed? Can anyone help? It is my long term purpose to promote the setting up of plaques at sites of incidents as arising out of popular discontent. To this end who would like to carry out research and field trip study of such incidents associated with popular struggle in their area, if interested do get in touch as together we can map and record this Peoples History of Struggle so contributing to a Wales Socialist History.

Further Reading :

Sharon Howard, 'Riotous community: crowds, politics and society
in Wales , c.1700–1840', Welsh History Review, 20:4 (2001), › BooksHistoryBritain & IrelandIreland
Hope and Heartbreak is a bold new interpretation of Welsh social history at the opening of the nineteenth century. Russell Davies ranges far and wide, from  ...

Gethin Gruffydd.

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