Picture of George Borrow

George Borrow

places mentioned

Around Anglesey (2)

Next Selection Previous Selection


Boxing Harry - Mr Bos - Black Robin - Drovers - Commercial Travellers.

I ARRIVED at the hostelry of Mr Pritchard without meeting any adventure worthy of being marked down. I went into the little parlour, and, ringing the bell, was presently waited upon by Mrs Pritchard, a nice matronly woman, whom I had not before seen, of whom I inquired what I could have for dinner.

"This is no great place for meat," said Mrs Pritchard, "that is fresh meat, for sometimes a fortnight passes without anything being killed in the neighbourhood. I am afraid at present there is not a bit of fresh meat to be had. What we can get you for dinner I do not know, unless you are willing to make shift with bacon and eggs."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said I, "I will have the bacon and eggs with tea and bread-and-butter, not forgetting a pint of ale - in a word, I will box Harry."

"I suppose you are a commercial gent," said Mrs Pritchard.

"Why do you suppose me a commercial gent?" said I. "Do I look one?"

"Can't say you do much," said Mrs Pritchard; "you have no rings on your fingers, nor a gilt chain at your waistcoat-pocket, but when you said 'box Harry,' I naturally took you to be one of the commercial gents, for when I was at Liverpool I was told that that was a word of theirs."

"I believe the word properly belongs to them," said I. "I am not one of them; but I learnt it from them, a great many years ago, when I was much amongst them. Those whose employers were in a small way of business, or allowed them insufficient salaries, frequently used to 'box Harry,' that is, have a beaf-steak, or mutton-chop, or perhaps bacon and eggs, as I am going to have, along with tea and ale, instead of the regular dinner of a commercial gentleman, namely, fish, hot joint, and fowl, pint of sherry, tart, ale and cheese, and bottle of old port, at the end of all."

Having made arrangements for "boxing Harry" I went into the tap- room, from which I had heard the voice of Mr Pritchard proceeding during the whole of my conversation with his wife. Here I found the worthy landlord seated with a single customer; both were smoking. The customer instantly arrested my attention. He was a man, seemingly about forty years of age with a broad red face, with certain somethings, looking very much like incipient carbuncles, here and there, upon it. His eyes were grey and looked rather as if they squinted; his mouth was very wide, and when it opened displayed a set of strong, white, uneven teeth. He was dressed in a pepper-and-salt coat of the Newmarket cut, breeches of corduroy and brown top boots, and had on his head a broad, black, coarse, low-crowned hat. In his left hand he held a heavy whale-bone whip with a brass head. I sat down on a bench nearly opposite to him and the landlord.

"Well," said Mr Pritchard; "did you find your way to Llanfair?"

"Yes," said I.

"And did you execute the business satisfactorily which led you there?" said Mr Pritchard.

"Perfectly," said I.

"Well, what did you give a stone for your live pork?" said his companion glancing up at me, and speaking in a gruff voice.

"I did not buy any live pork," said I; "do you take me for a pig- jobber?"

"Of course," said the man, in pepper-and-salt; "who but a pig jobber could have business at Llanfair?"

"Does Llanfair produce nothing but pigs?" said I.

"Nothing at all," said the man in the pepper-and-salt, "that is, nothing worth mentioning. You wouldn't go there for runts, that is, if you were in your right senses; if you were in want of runts you would have gone to my parish and have applied to me, Mr Bos; that is if you were in your senses. Wouldn't he, John Pritchard?"

Mr Pritchard thus appealed to took the pipe out of his mouth, and with some hesitations said that he believed the gentleman neither went to Llanfair for pigs nor black cattle but upon some particular business.

"Well," said Mr Bos, "it may be so, but I can't conceive how any person, either gentle or simple, could have any business in Anglesey save that business was pigs or cattle."

"The truth is," said I, "I went to Llanfair to see the birth-place of a great man - the cleverest Anglesey ever produced."

"Then you went wrong," said Mr Bos, "you went to the wrong parish, you should have gone to Penmynnydd; the clebber man of Anglesey was born and buried at Penmynnydd, you may see his tomb in the church."

"You are alluding to Black Robin," said I, "who wrote the ode in praise of Anglesey - yes, he was a very clever young fellow, but excuse me, he was not half such a poet as Gronwy Owen."

"Black Robin," said Mr Bos, "and Gronow Owen, who the Devil were they? I never heard of either. I wasn't talking of them, but of the clebberest man the world ever saw. Did you never hear of Owen Tiddir? If you didn't, where did you get your education?"

"I have heard of Owen Tudor," said I, "but never understood that he was particularly clever; handsome he undoubtedly was - but clever - "

"How not clebber?" interrupted Mr Bos. "If he wasn't clebber, who was clebber? Didn't he marry a great queen, and was not Harry the Eighth his great grandson?"

"Really," said I, "you know a great deal of history."

"I should hope I do," said Mr Bos. "Oh, I wasn't at school at Blewmaris for six months for nothing; and I haven't been in Northampton, and in every town in England, without learning something of history. With regard to history I may say that few - Won't you drink?" said he, patronizingly, as he pushed a jug of ale which stood before him on a little table towards me.

Begging politely to be excused on the plea that I was just about to take tea, I asked him in what capacity he had travelled all over England.

"As a drover to be sure," said Mr Bos, "and I may say that there are not many in Anglesey better known in England than myself - at any rate I may say that there is not a public-house between here and Worcester at which I am not known."

"Pray excuse me," said I, "but is not droving rather a low-lifed occupation?"

"Not half so much as pig-jobbing," said Bos, "and that that's your trade I am certain, or you would never have gone to Llanfair."

"I am no pig-jobber," said I, "and when I asked you that question about droving, I merely did so because one Ellis Wynn, in a book he wrote, gives the drovers a very bad character, and puts them in Hell for their mal-practices."

"Oh, he does," said Mr Bos, "well, the next time I meet him at Corwen I'll crack his head for saying so. Mal-practices - he had better look at his own, for he is a pig-jobber too. Written a book has he? then I suppose he has been left a legacy, and gone to school after middle-age, for when I last saw him, which is four years ago, he could neither read nor write."

I was about to tell Mr Bos that the Ellis Wynn that I meant was no more a pig-jobber than myself, but a respectable clergyman, who had been dead considerably upwards of a hundred years, and that also, notwithstanding my respect for Mr Bos's knowledge of history, I did not believe that Owen Tudor was buried at Penmynnydd, when I was prevented by the entrance of Mrs Pritchard, who came to inform me that my repast was ready in the other room, whereupon I got up and went into the parlour to "box Harry."

Having dispatched my bacon and eggs, tea and ale, I fell into deep meditation. My mind reverted to a long past period of my life, when I was to a certain extent fixed up with commercial travellers, and had plenty of opportunities of observing their habits, and the terms employed by them in conversation. I called up several individuals of the two classes into which they used to be divided, for commercial travellers in my time were divided into two classes, those who ate dinners and drank their bottle of port, and those who "boxed Harry." What glorious fellows the first seemed! What airs they gave themselves! What oaths they swore! and what influence they had with hostlers and chambermaids! and what a sneaking- looking set the others were! shabby in their apparel; no fine ferocity in their countenances; no oaths in their mouths, except such a trumpery apology for an oath as an occasional "confounded hard;" with little or no influence at inns, scowled at by hostlers, and never smiled at by chambermaids - and then I remembered how often I had bothered my head in vain to account for the origin of the term "box Harry," and how often I had in vain applied both to those who did box and to those who did not "box Harry," for a clear and satisfactory elucidation of the expression - and at last found myself again bothering my head as of old in a vain attempt to account for the origin of the term "boxing Harry."


Northampton - Horse - Breaking - Snoring.

TIRED at length with my vain efforts to account for the term which in my time was so much in vogue amongst commercial gentlemen I left the little parlour, and repaired to the common room. Mr Pritchard and Mr Bos were still there smoking and drinking, but there was now a candle on the table before them, for night was fast coming on. Mr Bos was giving an account of his travels in England, sometimes in Welsh, sometimes in English, to which Mr Pritchard was listening with the greatest attention, occasionally putting in a "see there now," and "what a fine thing it is to have gone about." After some time Mr Bos exclaimed:

"I think, upon the whole, of all the places I have seen in England I like Northampton best."

"I suppose," said I, "you found the men of Northampton good- tempered, jovial fellows?"

"Can't say I did," said Mr Bos; "they are all shoe-makers, and of course quarrelsome and contradictory, for where was there ever a shoemaker who was not conceited and easily riled? No, I have little to say in favour of Northampton as far as the men are concerned. It's not the men but the women that make me speak in praise of Northampton. The men all are ill-tempered, but the women quite the contrary. I never saw such a place for merched anladd as Northampton. I was a great favourite with them, and could tell you such tales."

And then Mr Bos, putting his hat rather on one side of his head, told us two or three tales of his adventures with the merched anladd of Northampton, which brought powerfully to my mind part of what Ellis Wynn had said with respect to the practices of drovers in his day, detestation for which had induced him to put the whole tribe into Hell.

All of a sudden I heard a galloping down the road, and presently a mighty plunging, seemingly of a horse, before the door of the inn. I rushed out followed by my companions, and lo, on the open space before the inn was a young horse, rearing and kicking, with a young man on his back. The horse had neither bridle nor saddle, and the young fellow merely rode him with a rope passed about his head - presently the horse became tolerably quiet, and his rider jumping off led him into the stable, where he made him fast to the rack and then came and joined us, whereupon we all went into the room from which I and the others had come on hearing the noise of the struggle.

"How came you on the colt's back, Jenkins?" said Mr Pritchard, after we had all sat down and Jenkins had called for some cwrw. "I did not know that he was broke in."

"I am breaking him in myself," said Jenkins speaking Welsh. "I began with him to-night."

"Do you mean to say," said I, "that you have begun breaking him in by mounting his back?"

"I do," said the other.

"Then depend upon it," said I, "that it will not be long before he will either break his neck or knees or he will break your neck or crown. You are not going the right way to work."

"Oh, myn Diawl!" said Jenkins, "I know better. In a day or two I shall have made him quite tame, and have got him into excellent paces and shall have saved the money I must have paid away, had I put him into a jockey's hands."

Time passed, night came on, and other guests came in. There was much talking of first-rate Welsh and very indifferent English, Mr Bos being the principal speaker in both languages; his discourse was chiefly on the comparative merits of Anglesey runts and Scotch bullocks, and those of the merched anladd of Northampton and the lasses of Wrexham. He preferred his own country runts to the Scotch kine, but said upon the whole, though a Welshman, he must give the preference to the merched of Northampton over those of Wrexham, for free and easy demeanour, notwithstanding that in that point which he said was the most desirable point in females, the lasses of Wrexham were generally considered out-and-outers.

Fond as I am of listening to public-house conversation, from which I generally contrive to extract both amusement and edification, I became rather tired of this, and getting up, strolled about the little village by moonlight till I felt disposed to retire to rest, when returning to the inn, I begged to be shown the room in which I was to sleep. Mrs Pritchard forthwith taking a candle conducted me to a small room upstairs. There were two beds in it. The good lady pointing to one, next the window, in which there were nice clean sheets, told me that was the one which I was to occupy, and bidding me good-night, and leaving the candle, departed. Putting out the light I got into bed, but instantly found that the bed was not long enough by at least a foot. "I shall pass an uncomfortable night," said I, "for I never yet could sleep comfortably in a bed too short. However, as I am on my travels, I must endeavour to accommodate myself to circumstances." So I endeavoured to compose myself to sleep; before, however, I could succeed, I heard the sound of stumping steps coming upstairs, and perceived a beam of light through the crevices of the door, and in a moment more the door opened and in came two loutish farming lads whom I had observed below, one of them bearing a rushlight stuck into an old blacking-bottle. Without saying a word they flung off part of their clothes, and one of them having blown out the rushlight, they both tumbled into bed, and in a moment were snoring most sonorously. "I am in a short bed," said I, "and have snorers close by me; I fear I shall have a sorry night of it." I determined, however, to adhere to my resolution of making the best of circumstances, and lay perfectly quiet, listening to the snorings as they rose and fell; at last they became more gentle and I fell asleep, notwithstanding my feet were projecting some way from the bed. I might have lain ten minutes or a quarter of an hour when I suddenly started up in the bed broad awake. There was a great noise below the window of plunging and struggling interspersed with Welsh oaths. Then there was a sound as if of a heavy fall, and presently a groan. "I shouldn't wonder," said I, "if that fellow with the horse has verified my words, and has either broken his horse's neck or his own. However, if he has, he has no one to blame but himself. I gave him fair warning, and shall give myself no further trouble about the matter, but go to sleep," and so I did.


Brilliant Morning - Travelling with Edification - A Good Clergyman - Gybi.

I AWOKE about six o'clock in the morning, having passed the night much better than I anticipated. The sun was shining bright and gloriously into the apartment. On looking into the other bed I found that my chums, the young farm-labourers, had deserted it. They were probably already in the field busy at labour. After lying a little time longer I arose, dressed myself and went down. I found my friend honest Pritchard smoking his morning pipe at the front door, and after giving him the sele of the day, I inquired of him the cause of the disturbance beneath my window the night before, and learned that the man of the horse had been thrown by the animal off its back, that the horse almost immediately after had slipped down, and both had been led home very much hurt. We then talked about farming and the crops, and at length got into a discourse about Liverpool. I asked him how he liked that mighty seaport; he said very well, but that he did not know much about it - for though he had a house there where his family had resided, he had not lived much at Liverpool himself, his absences from that place having been many and long.

"Have you travelled then much about England?" said I.

"No," he replied. "When I have travelled it has chiefly been across the sea to foreign places."

"But what foreign places have you visited?" said I.

"I have visited," said Pritchard, "Constantinople, Alexandria, and some other cities in the south latitudes."

"Dear me," said I, "you have seen some of the most celebrated places in the world - and yet you were silent, and said nothing about your travels whilst that fellow Bos was pluming himself at having been at such places as Northampton and Worcester, the haunts of shoe-makers and pig-jobbers."

"Ah," said Pritchard, "but Mr Bos has travelled with edification; it is a fine thing to have travelled when one has done so with edification, but I have not. There is a vast deal of difference between me and him - he is considered the 'cutest man in these parts, and is much looked up to."

"You are really," said I, "the most modest person I have ever known and the least addicted to envy. Let me see whether you have travelled without edification."

I then questioned him about the places which he had mentioned, and found he knew a great deal about them, amongst other things he described Cleopatra's needle, and the At Maidan at Constantinople with surprising exactness.

"You put me out," said I; "you consider yourself inferior to that droving fellow Bos, and to have travelled without edification, whereas you know a thousand times more than he, and indeed much more than many a person who makes his five hundred a year by going about lecturing on foreign places, but as I am no flatterer I will tell you that you have a fault which will always prevent your rising in this world, you have modesty; those who have modesty shall have no advancement, whilst those who can blow their own horn lustily, shall be made governors. But allow me to ask you in what capacity you went abroad?"

"As engineer to various steamships," said Pritchard.

"A director of the power of steam," said I, "and an explorer of the wonders of Iscander's city willing to hold the candle to Mr Bos. I will tell you what, you are too good for this world, let us hope you will have your reward in the next."

I breakfasted and asked for my bill; the bill amounted to little or nothing - half-a-crown I think for tea-dinner, sundry jugs of ale, bed and breakfast. I defrayed it, and then inquired whether it would be possible for me to see the inside of the church.

"Oh yes," said Pritchard. "I can let you in, for I am churchwarden and have the key."

The church was a little edifice of some antiquity, with a little wing and without a spire; it was situated amidst a grove of trees. As we stood with our hats off in the sacred edifice, I asked Pritchard if there were many Methodists in those parts.

"Not so many as there were," said Pritchard, "they are rapidly decreasing, and indeed dissenters in general. The cause of their decrease is that a good clergyman has lately come here, who visits the sick and preaches Christ, and in fact does his duty. If all our clergymen were like him there would not be many dissenters in Ynis Fon."

Outside the church, in the wall, I observed a tablet with the following inscription in English.

Here lieth interred the body of Ann, wife of Robert Paston, who deceased the sixth day of October, Anno Domini.

R. A.

"You seem struck with that writing?" said Pritchard, observing that I stood motionless, staring at the tablet.

"The name of Paston," said I, "struck me; it is the name of a village in my own native district, from which an old family, now almost extinct, derived its name. How came a Paston into Ynys Fon? Are there any people bearing that name at present in these parts?"

"Not that I am aware," said Pritchard,

"I wonder who his wife Ann was?" said I, "from the style of that tablet she must have been a considerable person."

"Perhaps she was the daughter of the Lewis family of Llan Dyfnant," said Pritchard; "that's an old family and a rich one. Perhaps he came from a distance and saw and married a daughter of the Lewis of Dyfnant - more than one stranger has done so. Lord Vivian came from a distance and saw and married a daughter of the rich Lewis of Dyfnant."

I shook honest Pritchard by the hand, thanked him for his kindness and wished him farewell, whereupon he gave mine a hearty squeeze, thanking me for my custom.

"Which is my way," said I, "to Pen Caer Gybi?"

"You must go about a mile on the Bangor road, and then turning to the right pass through Penmynnydd, but what takes you to Holyhead?"

"I wish to see," said I, "the place where Cybi the tawny saint preached and worshipped. He was called tawny because from his frequent walks in the blaze of the sun his face had become much sun-burnt. This is a furiously hot day, and perhaps by the time I get to Holyhead, I may be so sun-burnt as to be able to pass for Cybi himself."


Moelfre - Owain Gwynedd - Church of Penmynnydd - The Rose of Mona.

LEAVING Pentraeth Coch I retraced my way along the Bangor road till I came to the turning on the right. Here I diverged from the aforesaid road, and proceeded along one which led nearly due west; after travelling about a mile I stopped, on the top of a little hill; cornfields were on either side, and in one an aged man was reaping close to the road; I looked south, west, north and east; to the south was the Snowdon range far away, with the Wyddfa just discernible; to the west and north was nothing very remarkable, but to the east or rather north-east, was mountain Lidiart and the tall hill confronting it across the bay.

"Can you tell me," said I to the old reaper, "the name of that bald hill, which looks towards Lidiart?"

"We call that hill Moelfre," said the old man desisting from his labour, and touching his hat.

"Dear me," said I; "Moelfre, Moelfre!"

"Is there anything wonderful in the name, sir?" said the old man smiling.

"There is nothing wonderful in the name," said I, "which merely means the bald hill, but it brings wonderful recollections to my mind. I little thought when I was looking from the road near Pentraeth Coch yesterday on that hill, and the bay and strand below it, and admiring the tranquillity which reigned over all, that I was gazing upon the scene of one of the most tremendous conflicts recorded in history or poetry."

"Dear me," said the old reaper; "and whom may it have been between? the French and English, I suppose."

"No," said I; "it was fought between one of your Welsh kings, the great Owain Gwynedd, and certain northern and Irish enemies of his."

"Only think," said the old man, "and it was a fierce battle, sir?"

"It was, indeed," said I; "according to the words of a poet, who described it, the Menai could not ebb on account of the torrent of blood which flowed into it, slaughter was heaped upon slaughter, shout followed shout, and around Moelfre a thousand war flags waved."

"Well, sir," said the old man, "I never before heard anything about it, indeed I don't trouble my head with histories, unless they be Bible histories."

"Are you a Churchman?" said I.

"No," said the old man, shortly; "I am a Methodist."

"I belong to the Church," said I.

"So I should have guessed, sir, by your being so well acquainted with pennillion and histories. Ah, the Church. . . . ."

"This is dreadfully hot weather, said I, "and I should like to offer you sixpence for ale, but as I am a Churchman I suppose you would not accept it from my hands."

"The Lord forbid, sir," said the old man, "that I should be so uncharitable! If your honour chooses to give me sixpence, I will receive it willingly. Thank your honour! Well, I have often said there is a great deal of good in the Church of England."

I once more looked at the hill which overlooked the scene of Owen Gwynedd's triumph over the united forces of the Irish Lochlanders and Normans, and then after inquiring of the old man whether I was in the right direction for Penmynnydd, and finding that I was, I set off at a great pace, singing occasionally snatches of Black Robin's ode in praise of Anglesey, amongst others the following stanza:-

"Bread of the wholesomest is found
In my mother-land of Anglesey;
Friendly bounteous men abound
In Penmynnydd of Anglesey."

I reached Penmynnydd, a small village consisting of a few white houses and a mill. The meaning of Penmynnydd is literally the top of a hill. The village does not stand on a hill, but the church which is at some distance, stands on one, or rather on a hillock. And it is probable from the circumstance of the church standing on a hillock, that the parish derives its name. Towards the church after a slight glance at the village, I proceeded with hasty steps, and was soon at the foot of the hillock. A house, that of the clergyman, stands near the church, on the top of the hill. I opened a gate, and entered a lane which seemed to lead up to the church.

As I was passing some low buildings, probably offices pertaining to the house, a head was thrust from a doorway, which stared at me. It was a strange hirsute head, and probably looked more strange and hirsute than it naturally was, owing to its having a hairy cap upon it.

"Good day," said I.

"Good day, sar," said the head, and in a moment more a man of middle stature, about fifty, in hairy cap, shirt-sleeves, and green apron round his waist, stood before me. He looked the beau-ideal of a servant of all work.

"Can I see the church?" said I.

"Ah, you want to see the church," said honest Scrub. "Yes, sar! you shall see the church. You go up road there past church - come to house, knock at door - say what you want - and nice little girl show you church. Ah, you quite right to come and see church - fine tomb there and clebber man sleeping in it with his wife, clebber man that - Owen Tiddir; married great queen - dyn clebber iawn."

Following the suggestions of the man of the hairy cap I went round the church and knocked at the door of the house, a handsome parsonage. A nice little servant-girl presently made her appearance at the door, of whom I inquired whether I could see the church.

"Certainly, sir," said she; "I will go for the key and accompany you."

She fetched the key and away we went to the church. It is a venerable chapel-like edifice, with a belfry towards the west; the roof sinking by two gradations, is lower at the eastern or altar end, than at the other. The girl, unlocking the door, ushered me into the interior.

"Which is the tomb of Tudor?" said I to the pretty damsel.

"There it is, sir," said she, pointing to the north side of the church; "there is the tomb of Owen Tudor."

Beneath a low-roofed arch lay sculptured in stone on an altar tomb, the figures of a man and woman; that of the man in armour; that of the woman in graceful drapery. The male figure lay next the wall.

"And you think," said I to the girl; "that yonder figure is that of Owen Tudor?"

"Yes, sir," said the girl; "yon figure is that of Owen Tudor; the other is that of his wife, the great queen; both their bodies rest below."

I forbore to say that the figures were not those of Owen Tudor and the great queen, his wife; and I forbore to say that their bodies did not rest in that church, nor anywhere in the neighbourhood, for I was unwilling to dispel a pleasing delusion. The tomb is doubtless a tomb of one of the Tudor race, and of a gentle partner of his, but not of the Rose of Mona and Catherine of France. Her bones rest in some corner of Westminster's noble abbey; his moulder amongst those of thousands of others, Yorkists and Lancastrians, under the surface of the plain, where Mortimer's Cross once stood, that plain on the eastern side of which meanders the murmuring Lug; that noble plain, where one of the hardest battles which ever blooded English soil was fought; where beautiful young Edward gained a crown, and old Owen lost a head, which when young had been the most beautiful of heads, which had gained for him the appellation of the Rose of Anglesey, and which had captivated the glances of the fair daughter of France, the widow of Monmouth's Harry, the immortal victor of Agincourt.

Nevertheless, long did I stare at that tomb which though not that of the Rose of Mona and his queen, is certainly the tomb of some mighty one of the mighty race of Theodore. Then saying something in Welsh to the pretty damsel, at which she started, and putting something into her hand, at which she curtseyed, I hurried out of the church.

George Borrow, Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery (Oxford, Mississippi, 1996)

Next Selection Previous Selection