History of the Brecknock Family History Group
by Hilary Williams
Powys Family History Society
Our parent body, the Powys Family History Society, was formed in 1980 by Dilys Glover, David Williams and David Peate. Initial talks, held at Dilys's Montgomeryshire cottage in August 1980, led to the formation of the Society and the first meeting was held in Newtown in December of that year.
For the next five years the Society had members in Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, enabling local groups to be formed in both counties. There were not enough members in Breconshire to form a local group, so Breconshire members attended the Radnor Group. A trawl through Cronicl Powys, the Society journal, reveals evidence in 1983 of active Breconshire members in this combined Brecon and Radnor Group, and of attempts being made to form a separate Brecon Group. William (Bill) Phillips, for example, was busy recording Breconshire monumental inscriptions (MIs), and continued to do so, with others, for a number of years.
Formation of Brecon Group
By 1985, there were enough Breconshire members to form a group to complement the Radnor and Montgomery groups. The first Brecon Group meeting was held at Hay-on-Wye on 27th September 1985, with Ffrangcon Astley, Powys Society Chairman, and Dorrie Carver of the Radnor Group in attendance. Des Isaacs of Brecon was the first secretary of the new Brecon
Group, and by 1986 a Brecon Group Chairman had been chosen—Austin Pugh of Brilley—who went on to hold the office of Society Chairman. These early meetings were held alternately at the Wye Café, Hay on Wye, and The Castle Hotel, Brecon. Members of the Brecon Group included D. Evans, who became Group Treasurer; Eric Pugh of Hay-on-Wye; Tom O. Evans, who went on to write Roots and Branches, a book on families in Trecastle; Bruce Hosie, one of the leading MI transcribers; Sheila Leitch (left), whose dedication to the Group and Society has stretched from the early days of the Society to the present (she remains our Group Librarian and a knowledgeable researcher); Mrs C. Forbes; Margaret Kent, who was involved with sales and raffles and was Society Secretary for three years; Bill Phillips, whose work with MI recording was outstanding; and Nell Chillingford (right), who was one of the founders of the Hay-on-Wye branch of our group and still regularly attends our monthly meetings.
The Early Years
These early years were difficult for the Group and required great dedication from the committee members. Committee meetings were held in the home of David and Sheila Leitch, a tradition which continued until 2009. The public meetings were held in many parts of the county as well as in Hay and Brecon. The growing Group Library was carried around to the various venues by David and Sheila Leitch, as they visited towns and villages spreading the cause of family history and gaining new members. The Group held monthly meetings on Friday evenings, with only the month of December being free of group activities.
By 1987, David Evans had been chosen as our first Group Treasurer. Working parties were formed to record monumental inscriptions and our group was very glad to work in this task with other groups such as the Builth and District Heritage Society as well as with individual members. By 1990, Cronicl was able to report that one third of the church and chapel burial grounds in Breconshire had been recorded – no mean feat! Maurice Faulknall was a leader of the MI transcription team, but individual members also transcribed the Breconshire censuses. This work led to the production and sale of the ever-popular Breconshire Census Surname Indexes in booklet and CD format.
The early 1990s saw Len Elliot as Treasurer of the Society and Secretary of the Group. Other hard-working Group members included Pam Gettings, who coordinated our meetings; Ron Wicks, Group Treasurer for a number of years; Vera Brown, Group Secretary for over four years (Vera went on to hold a number of posts at Society level and is still very active with the Society and Radnor Group); Viv Parry, who was Group Secretary for three years (Viv had great knowledge of the Honddu Valley and Gwenddwr families and went on to write two excellent and useful booklets, entitled Pentre Dolau Honddu and Ebenezer, Upper Chapel 1805-2005); Rosemary Dean, who proved to be a most capable Group Secretary during the late 1990s; Ann Wicks, who became Assistant Secretary in 1997 as well as "Tea Lady" at our monthly meetings; and Mike Hall, a member who went on to become editor of Cronicl and a computer wizard for the Society.
The first mention of an annual get-together came in 1993, and the first January Lunch was held at Bishops Meadow in 1994, a tradition which continues to this day. Pam Gettings took charge of this event, later followed by Ann Wicks and then Eirwen Jones who still ensures that we have an excellent lunch and get-together, which everyone appreciates. Eirwen also became Assistant Librarian and Sales Coordinator in 1996, a role which she still performs today. She has great knowledge of the families of the Llyswen, Gwenddwr, Crickadarn, Llandefalle and Erwood areas and is a hard-working member at Open Days and when doing field work such as MI recording.
For a lengthy period attempts were made to move the monthly meetings to a more central and cost-effective venue. Finally in 1996, the Group settled on its present location at Kensington Chapel Schoolroom, Brecon, with meetings held on the last Monday in the month.
Death of David Leitch
The year 2001 marked a great loss to the Group and the Society, with the untimely death of David Leitch. He had joined the Society in 1985 and was Chairman of the Group for eleven years as well as being Vice Chairman of the Society. He, with his wife Sheila, was dedicated to the Society and Group. He promoted the Society and Group, introduced newcomers to the joys of family history, and his love of the Welsh language was a valuable asset to the Group. His dedication to local and family history found another outlet when he and Chris Price of Brecon Library co-founded Hanes, the local history periodical published by Powys Library Services. After the death of David Leitch, Ellis Matthias became Chairman. Ellis had been chairman before, but now the situation was dire, because all the other officer positions had become vacant.
Philip Evans Chairmanship
Philip Evans took over the chairmanship during the 2002/3 period. In this role, he guided the group through an early stagnant period until its members were in a position to revitalise the Group and bring it to its present healthy state. Dr Owen Forester became our first and only Vice President in 2002/3 and continues ably to carry on that role. His wisdom, judgement, and intellect have been of considerable value to the Society and the Group. Following the sad death of the Secretary, Heulwen Bell, during the 2002/3 period, Lynda White settled into the role and served us well until family and other commitments led to her resignation at the end of the 2008/9 period. The Treasurer, A. Jones, had to resign for personal reasons during her year in office and Suzanne Witcombe took over and ably carried out the duties of Office, despite ill health, until she too resigned at the end of the 2008/9 period.
Under the Chairmanship of Philip Evans, the Brecknock Group recruited several new committee members, who are now helping to take the Group forward. The new members joined Sheila Leitch, Owen Forester and Eirwen Jones as valued workers in the Group. Sadly, Philip died suddenly on Wednesday, 20th January 2010, just three months after relinquishing the post of chairman to Hilary Williams. His legacy is a strong and vibrant Brecknock Group.
Chairman, Brecknock Group
Updated 30 April 2010