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Article 1 – submitted 2 July 2010

Memories of the Epynt

by Hilary Williams of Brecon

June 30th, 2010 marked the 70th anniversary of the clearance of the Epynt. The community was evicted so that the land could be used for military training as Britain fought in World War 2.

Background

Epynt is part of a land mass which effectively divides Breconshire into north and south. It consists of high ground cut by river valleys running north and south. The highest point of the land mass is 1,546 ft (475 metres).

Map of Epynt
Map of Mynydd Epynt
[from An Uprooted Community – A History of Epynt by Herbert Hughes, Gomer, 1998].

The pre-war community was made up of scattered farms, small holdings, a school, a chapel and a public house. This served a population of 219 men, women and children and took up an area of about 60,000 acres (24,281 hectares). Neighbouring villages on lower ground also served this scattered community with more schools, places of worship as well as places for entertainment.

The residents of the Epynt region were initially told that they would be evicted from their homes in the late summer of 1939. The eviction finally happened at the end of June in 1940. The community was broken up, as farmers and others had to find new places to live and work. Some families remained in Breconshire whilst others had to move further afield. Initially, some members of the Epynt community believed that after the War ended, that they would be allowed back to their homes on Epynt. This, of course, that did not occur and the military training range still functions day.

The Story

My great grandparents, Thomas and Caroline Evans were tenants of the Drover's Arms. The building still exists and is used as a military billet. It is on the side of the road between Garth and Upper Chapel. Thomas and Caroline began their tenancy of the Drover's Arms in the 1880s and it was here that they reared eleven children. When they were removed from their home in 1940, Caroline was an 87-year-old widow, Thomas having died in 1917, with a disabled son living at home. They went to a smallholding called Sychnant, not far from Upper Chapel, which was owned by the Ministry of Defence. Caroline died in 1942.

Drover's Arms
Drover's Arms
[Photograph from author's personal collection].

If anyone tries to find Drovers Arms on the 1851 census, they will not find that name. It was then called Tynmynydd, an alternative name meaning "house in the mountain". In fact, this was the name by which my mother always referred to her grandmother at Drover's Arms – 'Granny Tymynydd'.

Drover's Arms, when it was a functioning public house, was the highest, in altitude, in Wales. What a view there is from there! The mountains of at least three counties are visible. In the winter, however, it must have been an extremely difficult place to live. The children of Drover's Arms, and neighbouring farms on the eastern edge of Epynt, went to school in Maesmynis, near Builth Wells. This involved a round trip of eight miles in all kinds of weather. To make the route safer for the children, the paths were marked with pieces of broken crockery. These, I suppose, acted as "cats eyes" in foggy conditions. These paths we called "china roads". Fragments of crockery can still be found in places on the Epynt foothills.

Despite its remoteness, there was a busy social scene at Drover's Arms. Stallion sales were held there as well as sports days. Lowland farmers had the right to graze sheep on Epynt. They would get together to gather the sheep at certain times of the year. The strays would be sorted out at Drover's Arms in the small field enclosures where the drovers of past times held their sheep overnight. This would be a useful place for sorting out the sheep, with the benefit of a drink and a bite to eat on the doorstep.

Gentry families and their guests would be visitors to Drover's Arms to take part in the sport of hare-coursing. Again, this would be a welcomed event for my great grandparents, as they provided the refreshment. Of course there were also the locals who frequented the Drover's Arms on a weekly basis; they would have provided the basic income for my great grandparents. Thomas, however, also worked as a shepherd to ensure the family had enough income.

Caroline Evans
Caroline Evans using a knocker churn
alongside her disabled son Jack.

[Photograph from author's personal collection].

By all accounts, Caroline was a tough landlady. She knew when her customers had drunk enough, telling them to "Go home, boy, to your wife". She would also shut my great grandfather up in the "cwtch", (under-stair cupboard), when he had overdone the drink. I was told a story that she was caught selling alcohol out of hours by a policeman. When the case was brought to court, the Magistrate asked the policeman whether he had set out to catch her selling out of hours. When he confirmed that this wa so, the Magistrate condemned him, stating that the accused was providing a service in that remote area. Furthermore, the Magistrate said that this might have been her only customer of the day. Apparently the case was thrown out. Whether true or not, the story highlights the difficult conditions she worked in, especially since by this time, droving was on the decline.

Of course, the drovers had been regular visitors. Epynt was on an important droving route, from west and mid Wales to Brecon and England. Drover's Arms was an important resting point before the drovers made the final leg of their Welsh journey to the river Wye and on into England. It wasn't only the long haul droves that crossed the Epynt, but also the shorter droves to local markets such as that at Brecon.

I had the privilege of knowing one of the last drover boys to cross the Epynt. He was the late Mr David Jones, the Post Office, Abergwessyn. He was a remarkable man. He had been interviewed so many times, for TV and radio as well as by the National Museum of Wales, that he was quite at ease with celebrity status. He well remembered my great grandmother at Drover's Arms and especially the sale of the pub stock held there before the evictions. He spoke of the times as a boy when he would arrive at Drovers Arms with the drove heading for Brecon Market. On one occasion he was soaking wet and was given dry woollen socks by my great grandmother as well as a warming meal of fried eggs and fat bacon.
Incidentally, his mother was the only outsider who was willing to risk her own health to help my grandmother, Caroline's daughter, when she (my mother) and her brother had diphtheria. This act of selflessness has not been forgotten by our family. Sadly, my mother's brother succumbed to the disease and died aged six years.

Droverís halts were always "signposted" by a group of trees, planted nearby. These upland areas were almost treeless before the coming of afforestation, so this practice was a very effective location device. Even today, I can pick out the site of Drover's Arms from a long distance by the few trees still growing by the building.

Bibliography
  • Ronald Davies, Epynt Without People... and Much More. Y Lolfa, 1984.
  • Ronald G. Church, Sennybridge Training Area 1940-1990. Cardiff.
  • Herbert Hughes An Uprooted Community – A History of Epynt. Gomer, 1998.
    (Also available in Welsh: Mae'n ddiwedd byd yma: Hanes Epynt. Gwasg Gomer, 1997).

30 November 2010 – Tracy Harley wrote in response to Hilary Williams's article:
While researching for my daughter's WW2 project we came across your item about Caroline Evans. She was my great great grandmother, and my grandfather kept the tatty photo of her with her son Jack which is in the article. I was wondering if you had seen a copy of the Western Mail's Weekender from 31st July 1993, which has an article by Dr Iorwerth Peate called Their land they shall lose which gives account of him visiting the Epynt just before the military took over to photograph of the buildings. I found it quite moving.
Yours
Tracy Harley

1 December 2010 – Hilary immediately replied:
Thank you for responding to this article, Tracy. It is lovely to hear from another member of the Evans clan. I will now e-mail you privately to continue our family history discussions. Should anything of interest to the general public emerge from our private correspondence, I will add it to the website for others to share.
Hilary Williams



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