The Powysland Club: its origin and early development

May 13, 2018 0 Comments

Arms of the Powysland Club

1   Foundation

The first county archaeological society in Wales was the Caerleon Antiquarian Association, founded in 1847 and renamed the Monmouthshire and Caerleon Antiquarian Association in 1857.

It was twenty years before a second local archaeological society in Wales was founded, in 1867.  The gap is puzzling, especially when one considers that this period saw the major flowering of county societies elsewhere.  Between 1848 and 1866 over twenty sprang up in all parts of England, from Cumberland to Kent, from Suffolk to Herefordshire. But it must be remembered that in Wales those who were actively interested in archaeology were very limited in number, and that most of them looked to the all-Wales Cambrian Archaeological Association as the organisation to which they owed their allegiance.

It might also seem surprising that it should be Montgomeryshire that produced the second society. It was one of the most sparsely populated of all the Welsh counties, remote from major centres of population until the coming of the railways in 1859. It had only two towns of any significance, Newtown and Welshpool, both with fewer than 6,000 inhabitants.  A few were employed in lead and slate mining, but the once-prosperous textile industry, based at Llanidloes and Newtown, had declined disastrously, and the majority of the county’s inhabitants worked on the land.  Moreover, archaeologically speaking it did not appear at the time to be very promising ground.  Only a few sites, such as the Roman fort at Caersws, partially excavated in 1854-5, were well known, and important finds were few.  As the founder of the Powysland Club later remarked, the county was ‘almost virgin-ground in an archaeological point of view.’ (1)

Walter Davies (Gwallter Mechain) by Hugh Hughes

In other ways, however, Montgomeryshire was well placed.  Like Monmouthshire it shared a border with England and was thus open to English archaeological influence.  Its neighbouring county, Shropshire, had had a county natural history and archaeological society as early as 1855, and an Oswestry and Welshpool Naturalists’ Field Club had existed since the l850s.  More significant than these cross-border contacts was the county’s strong indigenous tradition of historiography and scholarship.  Two of the most outstanding of the scholars responsible for the renaissance of Welsh culture in the early nineteenth century were Montgomeryshire men, John Jenkins (Ifor Ceri, 1770-1829) and Walter Davies (Gwallter Mechain, 1761-1849).  The latter contributed several articles on the history of Montgomeryshire parishes to the Cambrian Register and Cambrian Quarterly Magazine.  Later, in 1861, a third antiquary, Thomas Griffiths Jones (‘Cyffin’, 1834-84) founded the Powys Cymreigyddion Society, becoming its first president, though it soon collapsed through lack of funds (2).

Another, more immediate factor in the genesis of the Powysland Club was the stimulus of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, which later tended to regard the Club as its ‘daughter’ society.  In 1866 a letter from an ‘old member’ was published in the Association’s journal Archaeologia Cambrensis, which suggested that ‘small working meetings’ should be arranged by the Association’s local secretaries; next year ‘E.H.’ wrote proposing the establishment of ‘subordinate societies or committees’ to explore their local areas and investigate their history, with the eventual aim of publication (3).  In the next issue this idea received support from another correspondent, though the editor remained sceptical (4).  Meanwhile, in August 1866 the Cambrians had held their annual meeting at Machynlleth, in the western extremity of Montgomeryshire.  As usual a local committee was formed to make arrangements for the visits; seven of its members were to play important roles in the early history of the Powysland Club.  The Association’s Secretary, in his report to the meeting, noted the lack of county histories and the importance of journals like Arch. Camb. in collecting material of value to future historians.  In short, conditions were right for the emergence of a new local antiquarian society.  All that was needed was the initial energy and organisation.

Morris Charles Jones

These were provided by two men, Morris Charles Jones and Thomas Owen Morgan.  Jones (5) was clearly the driving force.  He was born in Welshpool in 1819 of an old nonconformist Welshpool family, and was educated in London.  He became articled in 1835 to a Welshpool solicitor, but later moved to Liverpool, where he continued to practise until his retirement to Gungrog Hall near Welshpool in 1880.  His profession brought him into contact with deeds and other documents of historical interest and equipped him with the skills necessary for their interpretation.  His earliest literary works were privately printed: the first, published in 1864, concerned some old oak panelling at Gungrog and was praised as ‘a curious and well-written notice’ by a reviewer in Arch. Camb. (6).  He achieved wider recognition two years later with the publication in Arch. Camb. itself of an important article identifying for the first time the charter of Valle Crucis Abbey and showing the abbey to be a daughter- foundation of Strata Marcella (7).

Thomas Owen Morgan

Morgan (8) was an older man, aged 68 in 1867, with apparently little personal connection with the county of Montgomeryshire.  He too was a lawyer, and a member of Lincoln’s Inn, though it appears that a private income relieved him of the need to practise.  He was chiefly known for his popular guide books to Aberystwyth (1848, with numerous later editions) and Aberdovey (1854).  He lived near Aberystwyth, where he served as Mayor in 1862-3.  It is likely that his value to the fledgling Powysland Club lay in his close connections with the Cambrians.  Unlike Jones, who joined only in 1864, he had been a member ever since 1847, and acted as local secretary for Cardiganshire from 1848 and Treasurer between 1857 and 1859.  He was no doubt able to secure for the Club the favourable treatment which the Cambrians afforded it in its early years.

On St David’s Day 1867 Jones and Morgan sent over 250 copies of a ’proposal’ and a ‘circular’ (9) ‘to all the magistrates, clergy, and all the professional (legal and medical) men in the county [of Montgomeryshire] and some others.’  The proposal was for the establishment of ‘a society or club, to be called ‘The Powys-land Club’, for the collecting and printing, for the use of its members, of the historical, ecclesiastical, genealogical, topographical, and literary remains of Montgomeryshire.’  The writers drew attention to the wealth of historical material on the county, which had nevertheless failed to receive the treatment it deserved.  What was needed was a county history, but it was recognised that no living scholar could attempt the task successfully:

A county history is the great desideratum; but considering the varied qualifications required to meet in one person to enable them to write a good county history, who is equal to such a herculean task?

Instead, it was proposed to publish both original and reprinted articles on Montgomeryshire history in periodical parts, on a wide variety of subjects.  The accompanying ‘circular’ revealed that the plans proposed had already been set in motion: a paper by G.T.O. Bridgeman on the princes of Upper Powys was being reprinted at Jones’s expense and would form ‘Part 1’ of the collection.  Other contributions were in preparation and the assistance of ‘several gentlemen’ had already been gained.  Furthermore, the Earl of Powis had consented to become President, and Lord Sudeley, the Bishop of St Asaph and Sir W.W. Wynn to be vice-presidents.  Recipients of the circular were invited to become subscribers to the proposed society and to contribute articles for future issues (10).

Jones and Morgan had prepared the ground well. Their model for the new society, reflected in its title, was the printing club (11).  Several such clubs had been established in England and Scotland with the purpose of printing books and other items not suitable for commercial publication and distributing them to subscribing members.  The first of them was the Roxburghe Club, founded in 1812; others included the Surtees Society, the Camden Society and the Spalding Club, founded in 1839 in Aberdeen.  The last of these Jones acknowledged as an influence on his own thinking (12).  Most of these bodies existed solely to publish books; each member payed a fixed annual subscription, in exchange for which he received a copy of each book produced, but meetings of all the members usually took place only once a year and no other activities were arranged.  It was this pattern that the Powysland Club was probably intended to follow.  None of the traditional functions of an archaeological society, such as the establishment of a museum or the sponsorship of excavations, are mentioned in the proposal or circular as suitable aims of the new Club.  One can only speculate about whether the other activities that it later came to perform were in the minds of Jones and Morgan from the outset, but there is no doubt that the impression given to their reader was that the society was to be no more than a printing club.  The Earl of Powis later recalled that at the time the only justification for the Club’s existence lay in the fact that lack of space in Arch. Camb. prevented the publication of material on Montgomeryshire history (13).

If Jones and Morgan were cautious in their conception of the Club’s functions, they were no less careful in their choice of target audience.  They identified three groups of people who would be most likely to support their proposals: the gentry, the clergy and members of the legal and medical professions.  These were precisely the social classes that responded most readily to antiquarian causes.  Each class was allotted its own role: the clergy were encouraged to contribute topographical accounts of their parishes and transcripts of parish registers, the gentry would give copies of their pedigrees, armorial bearings and ancient deeds in their possession, and the professional men would supply histories, copies of town charters, statistics and other documents.

Third Earl of Powis, by Joseph Bridge

The choice of men to act as the society’s chief officers could not have been bettered for their influence among the middle classes Jones and Morgan sought to enlist.  Between them the Earl of Powis, Lord Sudeley and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn owned over 85,000 acres of Montgomeryshire and exercised a corresponding domination over the county politically and culturally.  Edward James Herbert, 3rd Earl of Powis, was a classical scholar of repute and had held the office of High Steward of the University of Cambridge since 1865.  He was chairman of the Montgomeryshire quarter sessions for 56 years and took an active interest in education and church building and restoration in the county.  He had long been a member of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, the presidency of which he had held in 1856.  Lord Sudeley and Sir Watkin were less distinguished, but neatly represented the opposing political factions operating in Montgomeryshire.  Religious authority was also secured in the person of Thomas Vowler Short, Bishop of St Asaph, one of the most active of nineteenth-century Welsh bishops.  It was said of him that by the end of his episcopacy he had succeeded in ensuring that no parish in the diocese was without its school, so devoted was he in his advocacy of universal education.  Like Lord Powis he was also a keen builder and restorer of churches, and was able to communicate his antiquarian enthusiasm to his clergy: according to one of his archdeacons,

When our bishop has presented to a living, he has requested the clergy to take a book and try to note down everything that can be connected with the parish. (14)

Bishop Thomas Vowler Short, by Henry Bridgeford

On 1st October 1867 Jones and Morgan issued a second circular, in which they announced that 72 gentlemen and ladies had signified their wish to become members of the Powysland Club – a sufficient number to warrant its establishment.  Members were invited to pay the current year’s subscription, in exchange for which they would be sent a copy of Bridgeman’s paper, and to contribute articles of their own, especially on the topography of their local districts, and transcripts of manuscripts, pedigrees and other documents.

By the time of the first annual meeting a year later, in October 1868, the number of members had increased to 87, and by the end of the year to 94.  Only three were women: for long the Club remained a male preserve.  They included Miss Davies of Penmaen Dyfi, the daughter of Gwallter Mechain, and Anne Warburton Owen of Glansevern, a formidable landowner, political reformer and railway promoter.  Fifty-four lived in Montgomeryshire, with the largest concentrations in and around Welshpool and Newtown; 13 lived in other parts of Wales and 27 in England.  As might have been expected from the distribution of the original proposal, members tended to fall within a limited number of occupational categories.  The largest group, 27 in all, were clergymen, though only fifteen of these were Montgomeryshire incumbents, much to the puzzlement of Morris Jones:

I am unable satisfactorily to account for so few of the local clergy joining the Club, there being at least 67 incumbencies in the county. (15)

Anne Warberton Owen, with trumpet

He was relying on the clergy’s educational abilities and local knowledge to supply most of the parochial accounts  or the Club’s publications, and the lack of wholehearted support from them was to prove a continual source of anxiety to him as editor.  ‘The great and the good’, however, were well represented: seven members were titled, there were four members of Parliament, and 21 magistrates (almost one third of the county’s total).  The legal profession responded well, with three barristers and twelve solicitors; there was one banker (Thomas Bowen, who acted as the Club’s Treasurer), an architect (David Walker of Liverpool) and a town clerk.  There was also a plentiful supply of antiquarian and historical expertise available to the new society.  Four members were Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, and many of the names were well known in Welsh antiquarian circles: E.L. Barnwell, D. Silvan Evans, H. Longueville Jones, Elias Owen and Robert Williams of Rhydycroesau.  In short, Jones and Morgan had assembled a group of men large enough and well enough equipped to ensure the continued existence of the Club.

E.L. Barnwell

The rules of the Club were based on those of existing antiquarian societies and printing clubs (16).  A limit of 100 was set on the number of possible members (17).  The management of the Club lay in the hands of a Council, consisting of the President, Vice-Presidents, Secretaries, Treasurer and twelve other members, to continue in office for three years and capable of re-election.  The first Council contained a judicious mixture of local notables, like C.W. Williams Wynn, MP for Montgomeryshire, and Charles Hanbury Tracey of Gregynog, and reliable antiquarians, both local, like the lawyers Abraham and David Howell and D. Phillips Lewis, vicar of Guilsfield, and national, like E.L. Barnwell.  The secretaryship was shared between the Club’s founders.  There was no official post of editor of the society’s publications, despite the heavy burden of work involved.  The officers and Council were to be elected at a General Meeting, to be held annually.  No provision was made for any other assemblies of members during the year and unlike so many other county societies the Club failed to adopt a programme of summer excursions or winter talks. This was partly the result of its origins as a printing club and partly a personal preference of Morris Jones.  He himself admitted that the lack of meetings for the reading and discussion of papers was a severe problem, but wanted the self-confidence required to organise them:

The disability of [the] Secretary to address a public assembly fluently and readily is a disadvantage which the Powys-land Club has always laboured under, and always will as long as its present secretary continues.  He would be greatly relieved if he could be associated with a co-adjutor, blessed with “heaven-born eloquence’, who could discourse fluently on all possible subjects on every suitable occasion.  Then the Powys-land Club could hold meetings and have delightful excursions, and explore many historical localities; but without an eloquent leader – brimful of information, and sparkling with wit, such meetings and excursions soon become dull and vapid, or are turned into noisy and useless picnics.

As the years passed it became clear to some that the absence of such attractions was impeding the growth of the society, but no changes were made (18).  Membership of the Club could be attained by election at a general meeting, upon application in writing by two existing members.  The annual subscription was set at one guinea, but ‘original’ members who also belonged to the CAA payed only half a guinea annually; an arrangement that illustrates the close ties the Club had with its parent body in its early days.  Another rule stipulated that the Club’s funds were to be used ‘in printing and illustrating such information as shall be contributed by the members …  and the necessary expenses of the Club’, thus apparently preventing the possibility of expenditure on other activities appropriate to an antiquarian society, such as excavation or museum building.

By the time of the first annual meeting, held on 1st October 1868 in Welshpool Town Hall, the Club’s continued existence was assured.  Already three parts of the Montgomeryshire Collections, amounting to nearly 500 pages, had been printed and distributed to members (with extra copies made available for sale to the public), at a cost of £75, while over £95 had been collected in subscriptions and donations.  The first paper, by Bridgeman on the princes of Upper Powys, had been reprinted with the author’s permission, but most of the other articles were original and by members of the Club.  Morris Jones himself contributed notes on the feudal barons of Powys and there were other papers on medieval subjects by Bridgeman and H. Harries Jones.  One archaeological article, by Edward Hamer, dealt with the earthworks and other remains of the district known as Arwystli.  Curiously, the first volume lacked any example of the parochial history, the importance of which Jones never tired of reminding his members.  However, there was no lack of plans for the future: Morgan in his Secretary’s Report presented the October meeting with an extensive list of parishes, arranged by deanery, which he confidently expected would receive treatment in future volumes from Club members.  Non-members had also been conscripted, including the Montgomeryshire-born William Boyd Dawkins, who had promised to write on the geology of the county.  Morgan drew attention to the manuscript collections of Wynnstay, which contained much of local relevance, and, exhorted its owner, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, to make them available to members.  The end of his report identified a problem that was to prove a source of continuing difficulty to the Club:

It was at one time feared that the sources of information relative to the history and topography of the county were scanty.  That such is not the case is now beyond doubt; the materials are abundant.  But the want felt is chiefly in persons willing to undertake to work the materials into papers suitable for the publications of the Club, a deficiency which it is hoped will be gradually supplied. (19)

The Secretary’s report met with universal approval.  The Earl of Powis praised the work of Morris Jones in establishing the Club on a sure footing, trusted that the number of members would soon be increased, and promised to make available a manuscript in his possession on the pedigree of the Herbert family for printing in MC.  A later speaker, Rev. D. Phillips Lewis, echoed the Earl’s praise, but voiced disappointment at the small number of clerical members present. He also pointed to the archaeological work that awaited the society:

One of the most remarkable features in this neighbourhood are the numerous earthworks which we find in various parts of the county.  These, I think, we ought to trace out, and endeavour to find out the object for which each was constructed, and also their connection one with another. (20)

 But the Club, he suggested, should not confine itself to fieldwork:

I hope that the members of this Club and of our local Naturalists’ Field Club will endeavour to establish a museum either at Welshpool or Oswestry, or in both. Such an institution may be of great use in preserving objects of interest to the antiquary or naturalist, and preventing them being lost or lost sight of in private collections.

This is the first mention of the possibility of a museum being set up by the Club. Twenty-eight years later Stanley Leighton, who became a member in 1869, recalled how Morris Jones had discussed with him the establishment of the society, and had talked of his desire to found a museum of archaeology in Welshpool (21).  Whether Leighton’s memory was faulty, or whether Jones really did have a museum in mind from the beginning (but felt that it might be overambitious to press it publicly before the society was firmly established), it is not now possible to determine.  But clearly the seed of a museum had been sown at the first annual meeting, and it was not long before the issue was taken up more actively.

The birth of the new society was well received within and outside Montgomeryshire.  Understandably, in view of its origins, it received favourable notices from the editors of Arch. Camb., who tended to view its foundation as a reflection of the CAA’s own vitality. Of the original proposal they wrote,

It is almost superfluous to say that such a proposal meets with our fullest sympathy, and will command our hearty cooperation … the existence of the idea is a most cheering sign of the vivaciousness of our own body, as well as of the spread of the knowledge and spirit which we have at all times endeavoured to promote. (22)

At its Hereford meeting in August 1867 the Association passed a resolution of the Committee that the Club should be offered the use of ‘all blocks, plates and printed matter, referring to Montgomeryshire’ that had appeared in Arch. Camb. In later years the issue of new parts of MC was regularly noticed in Arch. Camb.

The only known doubter of the worth of the new Club was the Merioneth antiquary W.W.E. Wynne, though even he had changed his mind and joined by 1870 (23).  With such a fund of goodwill, a stable membership and the organisational skills of its officers, the Club could look forward to a period of prosperity and continued growth.

2   Publications to 1893

The raison d’être of the Powysland Club always remained the publication of Montgomeryshire Collections.  Every year from 1868 until his death in 1893 Morris Jones edited a volume, each made up of three separately issued parts.  Often a single volume contained over 400 pages, in addition to a substantial section of preliminaries.  The burden of work in their production — commissioning and writing articles, editing, proof-reading, arranging for printing and distribution — fell almost entirely on the shoulders of Morris Jones.  T.O. Morgan appears to have been little more than a figurehead; indeed, one writer described his post as ‘a sinecure office … with so able and indefatigable a partner in office’ (24).  He contributed only two articles to MC, in 1869 and 1870, and died in December 1878.

The death of Tewdrig Mawr, by John Evan Thomas

Jones’s labour was severe.  He calculated that he wrote over 1,000 letters a year, and packed, addressed and distributed hundreds of circulars and book packets.  Proofreading did not come easily to him and it taxed his strength, as he acknowledged.  Nevertheless, the work was addictive: ‘I intend to persevere in what to me is a labour of love, and without which I should feel an aching void’, he told the annual meeting in 1876 (25).  It was partly in recognition of his services to the Club as editor that the grateful members presented to him in that year the large bronze group of the death of Tewdrig Mawr in Welshpool Museum.  The inscription on it referred to him as ‘Editor of the Montgomeryshire Collections’, a ’title’, he retorted, ‘I never aspired to, and never dared to assume (26).

A more worthy memorial to Jones’s devotion to the Club is without doubt the 29 volumes of MC he edited.  From the beginning he set out to emulate the scale and seriousness of Arch. Camb., and for the most part he succeeded, despite the far smaller number of potential contributors.  Few of the published articles are worthless and many, thanks to Jones’s careful editing, attain a high standard of accuracy and scholarship.  The majority deal with general aspects of the medieval or modern history of the county.  Contributions on pre-medieval history and archaeology appeared only sporadically.  Vol. 5 (1870) contained two programmatic surveys of the county’s antiquities by H.L. Jones and E.L. Barnwell, both of whom owed a primary allegiance to the CAA rather than the Powysland Club.  Jones pointed to the numerous prehistoric remains that awaited discovery and description on the hills and uplands, and suggested a systematic examination of every parish by the Club, ‘with an attempt to establish a comparative survey of all the rougher parts of the county.’ Barnwell, in a preface to his more substantial illustrated catalogue of extant Montgomeryshire antiquities, remarked that ‘…had there been, a century ago, any similar society in the county, or another Morris C. Jones, our present scanty knowledge of Montgomeryshire relics would not have been as limited as it is.’  The catalogue itself is far from impressive.  The whereabouts of many recorded finds, such as coins, was no longer known.  Those that had survived were few in number.  By far the most important were the bronze implements found at Guilsfield in 1862.  Barnwell emphasised that his list was only provisional: ‘… it is respectfully suggested that inquiries should be made throughout the whole of Powysland for further information of the earlier remains which, it is anticipated, must exist at the present time in private hands, unknown to the public, and often overlooked by the actual owners’ (27).

If, as seems likely, these two articles were deliberately intended by Jones to stimulate research and writing on Montgomeryshire archaeology, they cannot be said to have been particularly successful.  The number of contributions on archaeological topics remained very small throughout Jones’s editorship and beyond, mainly because of the lack of Club members sufficiently expert in prehistoric or Roman antiquities.  From time to time Jones tried to encourage archaeological work. In 1874 he wrote:

The investigation of the line of Roman roads, through a district now forming Montgomeryshire, will form a suitable subject for a separate paper for the Mont. Coll., and we only thus cursorily allude to it, with the view of drawing the attention of the members of the Powys-land Club to it, and eliciting information. (28)

but it was not until 1884 that an article on Roman roads actually appeared (29).  Apart from a few important general contributions from outsiders, a notable example being an article on the moated mounds of the upper Severn by G.T. Clark, archaeological articles are sporadic and mainly describe newly discovered or deposited antiquities.  The only regular repository for archaeological material was the parochial histories.  Here most writers were content to collect what they could of the written and oral accounts of monuments in their areas; detailed description and interpretation were seldom attempted.  Nevertheless, year by year, a catalogue of ancient sites that could be identified was gradually built up, so that eventually Montgomeryshire appeared to the first Welsh Royal Commissioners of Ancient Monuments to be the natural starting point for their own inventory when they began their work in 1908.

Parish histories always remained the stock-in-trade of MC, and their frequency was often cited as a measure of its health.  Jones had hoped that the incumbent clergy would provide the bulk of them, but in fact only three of the 24 parish histories completed during his editorship were written by resident clergymen.  Some contributors specialised in parish histories, notably Rev. Griffith Edwards, who tackled his own parish, Llangadfan, as well as its neighbours Garthbeibio and Llanerfyl, and Edward Hamer, the historian of Llangurig, Llanidloes and Trefeglwys.  Hamer was far from typical of MC contributors.  He was born the son of a shoemaker in Llanidloes, but through his academic abilities became a schoolmaster in Monmouthshire, where he remained until his return in 1878 to Llanidloes.  Here he helped his uncle by keeping his books, but later moved to his sister’s home in Birmingham. His are some of the best researched and most detailed of all the parochial accounts: the article on Llangurig extended over seven volumes of MC (it was later published separately as a book) and consists of twelve chapters covering topography and geology, ‘natural productions’, industry and agriculture, archaeology, churches, genealogy, borough and parliamentary history, nonconformity, folklore, local words and phrases and concluding with a topographical glossary.  This format was not of Hamer’s own devising, but derives from an eight-page document circulated by Jones to Club members in 1867 or 1868, entitled ‘A series of queries, hints and suggestions, designed to assist members and others in procuring and arranging information for the use of the Club.’ (30)  These guidelines, adapted from those of other antiquarian societies, set forth in considerable detail the subjects which the ideal parish historian should treat in his work.  Jones appears to have encouraged all writers of parish histories to use them as a framework for their articles, since most of the histories, even the slightest, are constructed along similar lines and cover at least the core of the subjects prescribed for treatment.

By 1878 the initial enthusiasm for parish histories was over.  Sixteen had been completed or were in preparation, out of a total of 47, and it became necessary to exhort the membership to provide more contributions:

The fact … that two-thirds of the parishes … are still almost untouched, requires to be kept in mind, and is mentioned in this report, in the hope that the members and supporters of the Club may be induced to enter into this interesting branch of the Club’s work, and supply, wholly or in part, histories of the remaining parishes. (31)

But only another eight were to be published before 1897.  Those completed tended to be of parishes in the north-eastern, southern and central parts of the county; the less populated west and north, as well as many of the parishes bordering Shropshire, still lacked their historians.

Elias Owen

Two other types of contribution are characteristic of the early volumes of MC.  In their original proposal Jones and Morgan had suggested as one of the journal’s aims ‘the collecting and printing of MS collections connected with the district, or throwing any light on any of the families of the county.’  They guessed correctly that ‘… the public record office and the muniment rooms of the magnates of the county would form an almost inexhaustible source of information … It would be proposed to print the original documents in extenso where thought of sufficient interest’ (32).  And throughout MC many manuscripts, lists and pedigrees of relevance to Montgomeryshire were printed, starting with W.V. Lloyd’s list of sheriffs in 1869.  The latter was reprinted as a separate publication, a practice followed later with genealogical extracts from Lewys Dwnn’s Visitation of Wales and a volume of Herbert papers.  Some of the members had ambitions for a more systematic approach.  R.E. Jones proposed in 1876 to print documents of Montgomeryshire interest in the Public Record Office and the British Museum.  The Earl of Powis was quick to dismiss the idea as impracticable and too expensive, but undeterred, Jones returned to the subject in 1891 (almost immediately after the Earl’s death), suggesting that a descriptive catalogue or calendar of Public Record Office documents should be prepared, and that a special fund, superintended by a committee of the Club, should be opened to defray the cost.  He also had a candidate in mind as the editor, E.R. Morris, who at the time was living in London.  The proposal was accepted, a committee was appointed and over £9 donated towards the fund on the spot.  Morris had completed an introductory index to the relevant classes of document in the Record Office by the annual meeting in 1892, but he died soon afterwards and the project did not survive him long (33).

The second category of contributions of especial interest is that of articles on the folklore and folk heritage of Montgomeryshire.  The pioneer in this field was Elias Owen (1833-99), a leading Cambrian and prolific writer, who began a long series of articles with ‘Archaic words, phrases, etc. of Montgomeryshire’ in 1871.  The study of folklore in Britain had started with W.J. Thorns in 1846, but it was not until the foundation of the Folklore Society in 1878 that it achieved academic standing (34); Owen was thus in the vanguard of the movement.  Other material on local folklore appeared regularly as part of parochial histories, since the ‘Series of queries, hints and suggestions’ issued by Morris Jones for the guidance of parish historians made a point of emphasising folklore, including festivals, stories, legends and superstitions, as an important part of a full account.  By Jones’s death in 1893 a substantial body of writing on folklore, old customs and ways of speech, which would otherwise have gone unrecorded, had been accumulated in the pages of MC.

In the early period the bulk of the Club’s subscription revenue was devoted each year to the printing and distribution of MC, but as more members were enlisted the balance recorded by the Treasurer at the annual meetings showed a substantial surplus.  No subscription income, however, was used to finance the Club’s most ambitious project, the building of the Powysland Museum.

3   The Powysland Museum

As we have seen, the establishment of a county museum had not formed part of the explicit plans of the Club at the outset, but already by the time of the first annual meeting the idea had been aired.  At the third annual meeting in 1870 an exhibition was held, at M.C. Jones’s instigation, of the antiquities and documents of individual members, including Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and the Earl of Powis.  The Secretary’s report to the meeting tackled the question of a local museum directly:

There is no doubt an inspection (of antiquities) creates a livelier interest in such objects than a verbal or written description possibly can; and the opportunity of comparison afforded by a museum is of great value to the antiquary.  The collection of remains, historical or artistic, in one place open to the public is more likely to interest and instruct than when they are scattered in private houses, where, after the first possessor’s death, they are frequently little regarded, and the history connected with them lost.

The exhibition of such objects would not only afford much gratification, but would greatly tend to interest the members and their friends in archaeology, and would prevent the destruction and dispersion of many future discoveries. (35)

It was recommended that a committee should be set up to report on the means of establishing a museum, possibly with the aid of the local Naturalists’ Field Club.  The Earl of Powis suggested that if it proved impossible to found a museum in the county the Club should ask the trustees of the Shrewsbury Museum whether a department could be set aside there for Powysland antiquities.  Sir W.W. Wynn was likewise reluctant to name a home for any museum, suggesting that as long as a good collection of antiquities could be collected together the exact location could be fixed later:
I fear that, if, at the outset, you pledge yourselves to a certain town, people will say, “Oh this or that town would have been much better than the one you have selected,” and may not be disposed to contribute so liberally as they may do if the question of locality be left for subsequent consideration.

Stanley Leighton supported the idea of a museum, but was concerned that its primary activities left the Club with few funds to finance one; nevertheless, he proposed a resolution that the Treasurer and Secretaries should constitute a committee, with powers to co-opt, to consider how best a museum might be founded and to collect donations towards it.  Rev. D.P. Lewis, the originator of the idea in 1868, recalled that on an earlier occasion the Welshpool Savings Bank had been suggested as a location, but its trustees had refused the use of a ground floor room.

Torcs from Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant

The resolution was carried and a committee was set up with Thomas Bowen, the Treasurer, as chairman. The committee decided to co-opt several members from each district of the county and to create seven sub-committees for each district.  The role of the latter was to inquire what each district had in the way of antiquities, that could be safeguarded for the museum, to encourage their inhabitants to donate antiquities, and, more ambitiously, to discover what archaeological sites existed that might be in danger of destruction (36).  It is unclear whether these sub-committees ever came into operation; certainly, nothing further is heard of them.  The work of the main committee, however, prospered.  At the 1871 meeting a collection of antiquities was displayed which had been donated to the museum by a total of 30 people.  They included four bronze torcs from Llanrhaeadr-ym Mochnant, some stone implements, parts of iron swords, coins, documents and books.  The Museum Committee reported that the problem of a location for the museum had not yet been overcome, but a temporary depository could be obtained.  In fact it appears that donated objects were stored by M.C. Jones at his home at Gungrog.  For the first time a statement was made about the scope of the future museum:

As local antiquities must necessarily be of limited numbers, it is not proposed to confine the museum to them, but to include any general objects of interest that may be offered, and which will serve to illustrate the archaeology and natural history of the district.  Therefore, general archaeological objects, and also geological, botanical and zoological specimens, will be gladly received. (37)

Gungrog Hall

The museum, then, was not to be restricted to archaeological objects, like the Caerleon Museum, but would also include natural history (though cooperation with the Naturalists’ Society never seems to have materialised).  More important, it was not to be confined to local specimens, but would accept donations from virtually any corner of the earth.  This decision was to have a crucial effect on the future collecting policies of the museum, and bequeathed continuing problems to its future curators.  The Committee then appealed to private owners of antiquities to donate them to the museum; by failing to do so, it suggested, they stripped their relics of more than half of their value and deprived both the public and experts of access to them:

The private owner may have as much (if not more) enjoyment of his favourite relics when they are deposited in a public museum, as when
locked up in this secret depositories; and in the former case he would extend the enjoyment to all, and to very many who possess not the
the same means or opportunities as he himself had in acquiring such luxuries. (37)

Donations continued to arrive: by the following year the number of donors had risen to 56 and the number of articles to 286.  It was reported that their exhibition at the annual meetings ‘has had the effect of exciting in the neighbourhood an interest in archaeological subjects, and bringing under the notice of the Members of the Club and their friends many interesting objects which would otherwise have remained unknown’ (38).  By this time the cellars of Gungrog must have been overflowing (39).  The Committee returned to the problem of securing a building for the deposited antiquities.  They had also been in contact with the South Kensington Museums in the hope that, if the Powysland Museum was opened to the public, it might become affiliated to South Kensington and hence receive objects on loan from London for exhibition.

The ‘cottage’

Finally, in 1873 Morris Jones solved the problem of a site single-handedly, by buying at auction for £400 a plot of land near St Mary’s Church in the centre of Welshpool, ‘in the confident hope that this purchase would receive the approval of the members of the Club’ (40).  Jones’s confidence was justified.  By the time of the 1873 annual meeting on 2 October the whole of the purchase price had been raised ‘almost spontaneously’ and the site was ready to be conveyed to trustees on behalf of the Club, ‘to be dealt with as the Club shall determine.’  Exactly how such a large sum was accumulated so quickly is not clear, but one may safely speculate that much of it was donated by the Earl of Powis and other wealthy members.  The site itself, on the corner of Salop Road and Red Lane, comprised about 635 square yards, on which already stood a small cottage; it was proposed to use the latter as a temporary store until the erection of a larger building adjacent to it.  The future success of the project now depended, as the Museum Committee emphasised, on the generosity of the members in financing a new building and in presenting their treasures to the museum.

Powysland Museum

The speed with which Jones and his friends now set to work was astonishing.  Within twelve months a new museum building, adjoining the existing cottage, was designed, funded, erected, equipped and opened.  The architect was a friend of Jones’s and an original member of the Club, David Walker of Liverpool, who gave his services free.  The builder was Edward Williams of Newtown. It was a plain though not unattractive building in yellow Ruabon brick.  An entrance porch, lighted by a small Gothic window intended to display any ancient stained glass that might be presented, led into the main room, 42 feet long by 26 feet wide.  This was lighted from the roof, the walls, as at Caerleon, being left unbroken for the reception of continuous wall cases. According to a local press report,

…although it has not much that can be called ornamental it has a pleasing appearance, and is not unworthy of the use to which it will be put. (41)

The total cost of the building itself amounted to £462; fittings and repairs to the cottage added a further £41 4s 0d.  It was raised entirely from donations to a building fund, mainly by Club members led by the Earl of Powis and Morris Jones, each of whom contributed £100.  The total collected was £928 17s 3d.

The construction of the building had not been without problems: shortage of money had reduced its planned size and the ‘dilatoriness of the contractor’ had delayed its completion. Nevertheless, its official opening on the occasion of the Club’s seventh annual meeting on 5 October 1874 represented a triumph for all those involved in its building and especially for its founding spirit, Morris Jones.  It is a mark of the latter’s naturally reticent character that the opening ceremony was not accompanied by much pomp; as a local newspaper remarked, ‘… the inaugural proceedings of Monday were simple in the extreme. There was no blaring of trumpets, and probably there were many in Welshpool who were quite unaware that the ceremonial was taking place’ (41).  About fifty people attended, to hear the Earl of Powis deliver the President’s address.  He began by congratulating the society and Morris Jones on having established a permanent, freehold home for the museum, which would without doubt attract a much larger volume of donations.  Then he proceeded to give his views on the symbolic and, interestingly, the political significance of the study and preservation of Welsh antiquities.  Their importance, he maintained, was that they marked the finality of a distinctively Welsh political and cultural identity:

It is the more necessary that we, as Welshmen, should study and take care of these relics of the past, because the history of Wales, as a nation, is that of the past.  It is inevitable that it should be so. When a small nation unites its fate to that of a larger one, it becomes merged in the greater body … The small nation united to a large one must of necessity give up — and give up by anticipation — its future history.  Its past history it possesses — its future history must be imperial, and not provincial. (42)

This is the voice not so much of a confident, aggressive imperialism as of a defensive response of the traditional rulers of Wales to the rise of a new nonconformist, radical and incipiently nationalist class.  Only a few years before in the parliamentary election of 1868, fought on the extended franchise of the 1867 Reform Act, Liberals had ousted their Tory rivals in all parts of Wales, provoking widespread retaliatory evictions of tenant farmers.  Nationalist movements in other parts of Europe, particularly Ireland, were beginning to find a counterpart in Wales, led by such figures as Michael D. Jones and Thomas Gee (in his address Lord Powis made a point of attacking the malign influence of Irish nationalism).  The chief nationalist demand, which was to be repeated for the next fifty years, was for the disestablishment of the ‘alien’ Church of England, the institution so close to the Earl’s heart.  His view, therefore, that ‘there is nothing which will tend more to the political stability and true progress of our institutions than linking them with the past, that they may go down in unbroken continuity to the future’, could easily be challenged by those who saw Welsh antiquities not as evidence for conservatism but as a useful, visible tool in establishing the historical authenticity of a renewed Welsh nationhood.  Indeed, the Earl’s words did not pass without comment at the time: Canon Jenkins wished the meeting to record his pride in Welsh nationality, already publicly acknowledged by the appointment of Welshmen to Welsh bishoprics.

W. Boyd Dawkins

Fifteen years later, when Welsh nationalism had hardened into a political force with the emergence of the Cymru Fydd movement, a second archaeologically-based attack on Welsh separatism was launched in the pages of MC.  The distinguished prehistorian William Boyd Dawkins wrote an article deflating claims for Welsh separatism based on ethnic grounds by showing that at all times, from the prehistoric era to the present day, the Welsh had interbred with peoples of other races, to such an extent that the Welsh and English were now one nation.  His conclusion was that

To attempt to revive an antagonism between English and Welsh, which has been dead since the Wars of the Barons, and to develop an anti-English feeling in Wales, is as unpatriotic as it is idle … The present inhabitants of Wales have shown no sign that they wish to be more isolated from England than they are of necessity from their geographical position.  They are not likely to submit to political vivisection.  They do not want home rule … (42A).

Not surprisingly, the article provoked a reaction.  A review in the Oswestry Advertiser criticised Boyd Dawkins for introducing politics into an archaeological magazine (42B).

Provisions for the administration of the museum were laid down in the ‘Rules of the Powysland Museum and Library’ and the trust deed of the property.  It would be open to the public on Saturday and Monday afternoons at an admission charge of 3d, except that on one day a month entry would be free.  Members of the Club would enjoy the right of free admission at all times on the grounds that they had contributed so much towards the museum and would be likely to take the greater interest in it.  Visitors would be supervised by the Keeper, who would occupy the original cottage.  Control over the museum was vested in Trustees, all officers of the Club.  Their role was not confined to ensuring its continued existence: they were also enjoined ‘if and when it is found practicable, by public subscription or otherwise to erect a further suitable building … as a School of Science and Art’, to found a library, and to transfer the museum to the borough of Welshpool at some time in the future, if that was necessary to ensure its preservation (43).  It was also intended to establish a small repair fund of around £400, to ‘keep the building in repair, and leave some small amount annually available for making additions to the objects in the museum’ (44).

What of the contents of the museum?  As we have seen, they were not to be confined to archaeological objects of local provenance, but would include geological and botanical specimens and objects of all kinds from beyond the county’s boundaries.  A statement first issued to members in December 1873 by Morris Jones detailed the categories of local material at was especially desired to collect:

In order to extend as widely as possible the interest of the Museum by giving it a generally scientific character, in addition to whatever may be included under the term “archaeology”, it is proposed to form in the Museum the following collections:
1. Objects of natural history, illustrating the zoology, botany, and geology of Powys-land, or of particular districts or parishes.
2. Particularly, specimens of minerals, fossils, etc., found in mines, limestone and other quarries, etc., in Powys-land.
3. Engraved portraits of Montgomeryshire worthies
4. Books, MSS., and works of art, and more especially the productions of local authors and artists …
5. Models, photographs, and drawings of remarkable objects, especially such as may be calculated to illustrate the local collections in the Museum. (45)

However, the list of articles donated to the museum up to 1874 (46) reveals a much more miscellaneous collection than this neat categorisation might suggest.  The most striking feature is the fact that, of the 454 objects in the main collection only 162 are of Montgomeryshire origin or association (47).  The remainder were found in other Welsh counties, in England, or, very often, overseas: among the latter, mostly the fruits of colonial souvenir-hunting, are

A Chinese matchlock found near the forts of Pekin in June 1860 …
Russian soldier’s helmet found in the Crimea
Silk pod gathered from a tree at Cuddalore, near Madras, East Indies (1869)
Spoon made from knuckle-bone of a shoulder of mutton by a Kaffir in Pieter Maritzburgh, Natal

Circular instrument from Trefeglwys

Clearly Jones’s acquisitions policy lacked discrimination, but he may have calculated that the refusal of less relevant objects could have resulted in a reluctance by potential donors in the future to part with more significant articles.  Certainly the number of donors up to 1874 (159, of whom 61 were Club members) is impressive.  And despite the large number of extraneous objects, the Montgomeryshire antiquities do include many valuable items that might otherwise have gone astray: four bronze torcs from Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, bronze axeheads from Trefeglwys and Llandinam, many Roman finds, including querns, pottery and coins, a flint circular instrument from Trefeglwys, carved stones from the site of Strata Marcella Abbey and the beginnings of what was to be an extensive series of hatchments.  There was also a large separate collection from the Mayence area of France, deposited by Morris Jones in order to provide comparative material for students of the Roman period.

Despite Jones’s success in persuading local holders of antiquities to deposit them in the museum, there were those who were not susceptible to persuasion.  Among them were the Earl of Powis and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn.  Neither appears in the list of donors in 1874.  Only one item from the famous Guilsfield hoard, found on the Earl’s land in 1862, was presented to the Welshpool museum, though several were given to the museums at Ludlow and Shrewsbury.  In 1874 an attempt was made to induce Sir Watkin to place in the museum a remarkable series of heraldic panels on a canopied pew from the parish church of Llanfihangel-yng-Ngwynfa.  This went the length of a memorial signed by 105 members of the Club, including twelve members of Council.  But the request was refused by Sir Watkin, who wished the panels to be re-erected in a new chapel of the church.

The following years brought a continuing flow of donations to the museum, 284 in l875 alone.  Most, however, had little or nothing to do with Montgomeryshire.  In 1876 the Museum Committee had to admit that

…the number of local antiquities presented is very small (only 20 in 1876).  It is an undoubted fact that the Museum does not contain local antiquities equal in number to a tithe of those in the hands of local collectors.  The Committee can but appeal to the public spirit of the latter to exhibit such an amount of generous self-abnegation as will induce them to make the Museum the repository of the local antiquities they possess. (48)

It was a plea repeated many times over the years, but it received only a moderate response: still the number of extraneous donations greatly outnumbered the local.  By 1880 a note of desperation enters the report of the Committee:

In some parts of the country – Scotland for instance – all relics found are almost invariably sent to the public museum …  Hitherto this has not been the rule in this district.  When relics are found, there is generally a strong competition for them, and instead of their being deposited in the public museum, they often pass into private hands, and are buried (the term is used advisedly) so far as the public is concerned, in private cabinets and collections. (49)

Although no Club funds were available for the purchase of antiquities, from time to time attempts had been made to secure items for the museum, but the Club had ‘on more than one occasion, been forestalled or outbid by private parties, and sometimes even by members.’ (50)

Nevertheless, objects continued to be donated to the museum and it soon became clear that the existing room was too small to house them and at the same time to cater for the other activities the Club had it in mind to undertake.  The Committee proposed that surplus money from the Building Fund should be used to build an extension to the museum as a library and reading room, and that plans should be made for a third room to accommodate a School of Art.  All but £30 of the total of £400 needed for the library extension had been collected within a few months of the opening of the museum, and the room was open by the end of 1875.  Progress with the School of Art was slower and it was not until 1685 that a room was finally built, at a cost of £455.

Meanwhile, the antiquities and specimens were threatening to overwhelm the museum room.  The Committee’s first response was to suggest the erection of an iron gallery around three sides of the museum, ‘thinking it not unlikely specimens of natural history and geological specimens have been withheld under the idea that there was not room for them.’ (51)  It was thought this would cost between £150 and £200.  But within a year the plan was changed to a separate extension on a vacant piece of land to the east of the museum.  Welcoming the new proposal D.P. Lewis also supported the idea of easing the overcrowding by removing the more general objects from the museum to leave room for those of local interest (52).  Whatever alleviation this brought did not give much respite, and complaints of overcrowding were soon heard again.  Plans for an annex were therefore revived, donations to a building fund were solicited, and estimates drawn up.  As with the original museum building, progress was swift.  The full cost of the extension (£192 5s 0d) was quickly raised and the work was completed by the annual meeting in October 1880, despite delays caused by the dilatoriness of the contractor, ,which prevented the fittings being fixed in time.  The room was dedicated to the Cambrian Archaeological Association, in honour of their visit to Welshpool in 1879 and in recognition of financial contributions by many of their members towards the building fund. (53)

The Cambrians were highly impressed by the museum on their visit.  E.L. Barnwell remarked that

…there was nothing of the kind, as far as he knew, in any other part of Wales; and, from his knowledge of the Principality, which extended over thirty years, he did not see much probability of the example being followed in the other counties.  The museum was not only for the benefit of the town, but also of the whole community.  There are articles in their museum which are perfectly unique, rare, and of inestimable value. (54)

From this it was a small step to the suggestion, made to the Museum Committee, that the Cambrians might adopt the museum as one serving not only Montgomeryshire but the whole of north and central Wales (55).  The Committee welcomed the idea and were ready to implement it ‘when the proper time for so doing has arrived.’  It received a further boost at the Pembroke meeting of the Cambrians in 1880, when it was agreed that Welshpool should act as a centre for the collection of antiquities from the whole of Wales.  This was in turn followed by a resolution proposed by Abraham Howell at the Club’s next annual meeting that the Club should make arrangements with the Association whereby the museum may become ‘a general and central museum for Welsh antiquities’ (56).  In seconding the resolution D.R. Thomas referred to the other public museums in Wales, at Caernarfon, Tenby, Swansea, Lampeter and Aberystwyth, but concluded that none of them displayed the same potential for growth and vigour as Welshpool, which possessed the additional advantage of being centrally situated and accessible by railway from all parts of the country.  The resolution was passed unanimously and its contents were passed on to the Cambrians, but there the matter rested: no reply was ever received.  Probably the claims of Welshpool were neutralised by the counter-claims made by the advocates of other museums: an anonymous letter from ‘A trustee of the Tenby Museum’, setting forth grounds for its selection as the basis of a national museum, was printed in Arch. Camb.  It is hardly surprising that this early attempt to found a Welsh museum collapsed; what is interesting is that the Powysland Museum should have held such a preeminent place in the thinking of the Cambrians’ leaders.  One explanation may be that the museum was not only expanding rapidly at the time, it was also attracting donations from far beyond the boundaries of Montgomeryshire: in effect it had already moved some way towards the status of a museum for the whole of North Wales.  Even before the opening of the original building finds had been deposited from Cardiganshire, Caernarfonshire, Denbighshire and Anglesey.  This process continued later: in 1884, for example, metalwork from Moel Hiraddug, Flints, and a medieval seal from Denbighshire were donated.  But the process never gathered enough momentum for the museum to be able to claim the position of a national institution.

One of the reasons for this failure may have been the change in status that the museum experienced in 1887.  As we have seen; the Trust Deed of 1874 allowed the possibility of a transfer of ownership from the trustees to the borough of Welshpool: Morris Jones was aware that the museum’s future could not be guaranteed as long as it was in the hands of a voluntary group of antiquarians.  By 1887 Jones was 68 years old and in failing health; the Mayor of Welshpool that year happened to be his friend T.R. Morris.  Jones wrote to him in March, acknowledging the gift of a specimen to the museum, and suggested that the Queen’s Jubilee year might be a suitable time for implementing the Trust Deed’s clause.  He proposed that the museum buildings and their contents, and the repair fund should be vested in the Corporation, with income to maintain them being generated from the rates under the Public Libraries Acts.  Copies of these plans were sent to the Council and each member of the Club, with an invitation to comment on them (a lack of reply being taken to assume acceptance).  Only two voices were raised in opposition (57) and so with the support of the Club assured Jones was able to proceed with a meeting between a committee of the Club’s Council and a committee of the Corporation.  At length the Town Council decided to convene a public meeting on 15 September to consider the adoption of the Public Libraries Act, the rate to be limited to ½d in the pound.  Surviving correspondence relating to the issue reveals the political astuteness shown by Morris Jones in the events that followed.  All Welshpool ratepayers were entitled to vote on whether the Act should be adopted, and opposition could be expected from those who were less well off to a proposal that might be presented as an unnecessary luxury.  Jones therefore wrote to the Mayor:

If our influential tenant farmers like Mr Green would move a hypothetical resolution that the tenants approved of the adoption of the Act provided the landlords would allow the rate assessed on the land – the meeting could be adjourned for another fortnight to give the landowners of the district an opportunity of considering the question so far as their interests were concerned. (58)

This plan was implemented and proved successful; the meeting was adjourned until 14 October.  On 8 October Lord Powis, at Jones’s suggestion, let it be known that if the Act was adopted he would be willing to pay the assessment rate upon the farms occupied by his tenants.  It was an example that few of the leading landlords of the area could afford to ignore, and it was backed by a circular letter, drafted by Jones and signed by the Mayor.  A few held out against the idea.  J.L. Rainier replied to the Mayor:

At the present moment I do not see how I am interested in the matter.  If my tenants voted in favor of a Free Library I am sure that I know them sufficiently well to credit them with not wishing to shirk their share of responsibility for the same.  In the event of their having voted against the Act being adopted I do not wonder at their objecting to pay for what they will probably never have time or inclination to make use of.  You cannot expect every one to do the same as Lord Powys as we are not all in receipt of such enormous incomes.

But he was outnumbered by those willing to follow Lord Powis’s precedent.  The outcome of the poll on 8 October was a resounding victory for Jones by 409 votes to 118, a majority of 291.

LLangystennin bell

The museum formally ceased to be a responsibility of the Powysland Club on 1 January 1888.  But the Club still retained a considerable interest in its development.  It reserved the right to hold its meetings there, and the right to circulate Library books among its members.  Furthermore it was represented on the museum’s Council of Management by two or three of its own nominated members, and Morris Jones continued as its curator, helped by two assistants, J. Bickerton Morgan (natural history) and Charles F. Beale (archaeology).   The Club continued to make financial contributions to its maintenance.  Since entrance to the museum was now free to all members of the public the number of visitors increased considerably.  Parts of the collection were reorganised: Bickerton Morgan, a talented young geologist, was responsible for building up and arranging the geological specimens.  Important new acquisitions were made, including the finds from the site of Strata Marcella Abbey, excavated in 1890, and an early Christian bronze bell from Llangystennin, purchased by the Club in 1891.  The museum’s future must have looked assured, but despite the transfer of ownership to the Corporation and the addition of assistant curators, it was still dangerously dependent on the dedication and work of its founder.  When Morris Jones died in 1893 its health was inevitably at risk

4   Other activities

As we have seen, the Powysland Club was far from being a conventional antiquarian society.  In one respect it was unique in Wales — in its continuing concern for educational activities, which showed itself most obviously in its establishment of a School of Art.

Once again the commitment to education stemmed largely from the personal interests of Morris Jones, although other members of the Club were also involved.  Welshpool, being far from any conurbation, lacked access to educational resources and was slow to develop its own.  Secondary education was almost non-existent (59).  There was also a notable lack of vocational education, and it was here that the Club saw a role for itself.

The School of Art

The first step was an agreement with the South Kensington Museum for the loan of objects for exhibition in Welshpool, with the eventual aim of forming a school of art.  This led in October 1875 to a large and successful week-long exhibition in the museum of art and archaeological objects, including many paintings loaned by South Kensington, and in turn to the prompt establishment of a School of Art ‘in connection with the Art and Science Department of the Committee of Council on Education, South Kensington’ (60).  A committee was formed to oversee the School’s foundation, chaired by Rev. J.E. Hill.  The services of the Master of the School of Art in Shrewsbury, Mr Cortissos, were engaged, and pupils were enrolled for both afternoon and evening classes.  But the School had no home –the Council Room was lent for the purpose by the Corporation – and the lack of one threatened to put a premature end to its existence.  When the charge for heating and lighting in the Town Hall proved too high, the classes were removed to the museum reading room, another unsatisfactory location.  Slowly the School lost ground and in 1877 classes were discontinued for lack of pupils.  Five years later, however, it was decided to revive them, and at last in 1883 an extension was built to house a School of Art.  The cost of the building amounted to £485, of which part came from the Repair Fund and part from a public subscription, the architect, Charles W. Jones of Liverpool, providing his services free.  The School was ‘mainly intended for artisans’ (61), but afternoon classes were also held; classes for science, wood-carving and needlework were also contemplated.  In an effort to publicise the School the Club circulated a pamphlet with the carefully utilitarian title ‘On the advantages of drawing’.  The results were encouraging: over 60 pupils were enrolled in 1883.  Candidates were entered for the Science and Art Department examinations and many gained certificates.  Although science and needlework classes never materialised, owing to opposition from South Kensington, it was agreed, on the initiative of Morris Jones, to offer classes in agriculture, an obvious subject in an overwhelmingly rural area.  John Fewtrell accepted the post of tutor, but only one pupil enrolled.  The Committee remarked, ‘This result is lamentable, and shows the apathy felt on the subject by parties interested’ (62).  Despite this setback a course of lectures on agriculture was given by Prof. Dobbie of Bangor in 1888, which stimulated so much interest that a Dairy School was established at Sylfaen, thanks to the donation of a farm house by Lord Powis.  Agriculture classes were also continued in conjunction with the School of Art.  It should be remembered that these events were taking place long before technical education was first provided publicly in the county (in 1891).

None of the other activities of the Club ever assumed as much importance as the School of Art in Jones’s lifetime.  From the beginning he laid stress on the role of the Club in helping to preserve from destruction the archaeological sites of the county:

Several members of the Club feel strongly upon the subject, and lamenting the destruction of many ancient relics in various parts of the county – such as ploughing down camps or earthworks, the levelling of tumuli for the sake of the soil, the removal of carneddau for the stones with which they are built, the displacing of meini hirion, &c – are anxious that the influence of the Club should be exerted for their better preservation in future. (63)

A.C. Humphreys gave as a reason for seeking the support of local landowners for the Club that their tenants would be less likely to destroy archaeological sites (64).  Six years later the county’s largest landowner, the Earl of Powis, was congratulated by Stanley Leighton for his own commitment to preserve:

I think he is the owner of a larger number of British camps than any one present, and he is to be commended for the care he takes in not
having these landmarks removed and that their characteristics should be preserved’. (65)

Leighton (a Conservative MP) went on to point a moral:

I think that through the culture and labour of those who own these ancient landmarks, they will be better preserved than by the appointment of Government Commissioners.

But not all members agreed.  G.T. Clark wrote to The Times in 1877 to complain of damage done by farmers to several moated mounds in the Severn valley, including Hen Domen.  Such destruction, he maintained, was a warning to those ‘who desire to preserve ancient monuments, but regard Sir John Lubbock’s Bill as interfering too far with private property’, and who usually assume that ‘the owners of such monuments, if properly addressed, will usually be minded to hear reason’ (66).  The process of destruction continued: Edward Hamer reported in 1879 that a standing stone in the parish of Trefeglwys had been destroyed, and commented:

Unfortunately, this spirit of destruction has not yet been laid, and it behoves those who are anxious to preserve the antiquities of the parish to keep a watchful eye upon those who are so zealous for improvements, that they have no scruple in “improving” them off the face of the land. (67)

There is no sign, however, that the Club as a body ever in this period intervened in a concerted way to prevent sites from being damaged.  Evidently the views of Leighton and his fellow thinkers remained unchallenged, and it was left to individual landowners to consult their own consciences if sites on their property came under threat.

Site of Strata Marcella Abbey

Nor was excavation an activity accorded much importance by the Club.  In 1869 a member, William Fisher, opened two tumuli on The Knapps (Uppington parish, Long Mountain) ‘in the hope of discovering some ancient tomb, or other remains’ (68).  Trenches were dug in a north-south direction, in anticipation of east-west burials, but despite noticing variations in soil colour Fisher was unable to uncover any stones, bones or implements.  Although ‘one of the honorary secretaries’ was present, it is unlikely that this dig was undertaken under the auspices of the Club.  No further excavations took place until 1890.  In May of that year Morris Jones, now 71 years old, revived an idea he had apparently raised before, of uncovering the remains of Strata Marcella Abbey.  Previously no suitable excavator could be found, but now Jones invited Stephen W. Williams, who had already excavated Strata Florida and Abbey Cwmhir, to explore the site.  His conclusion was that excavation was worthwhile.  Permission was sought from the landlord, the Earl of Powis, and the tenant.  The Earl offered the loan of six workmen for a week.  This preliminary exploration revealed what appeared to be traces of the walls and column bases of the Abbey church, together with masonry fragments, encaustic tiles and a grave.  It was therefore decided to make a complete excavation, if enough funds could be raised.  A committee was formed, including D.R. Thomas and the vicar of Welshpool, and a letter was inserted in the Oswestry Advertiser appealing for subscriptions.  £75 14s 6d was raised from a total of 38 subscribers, enough to start operations.  Work continued from 14 August until 8 October without a single day’s rest.

Descriptions of the dig by Jones and Williams provide a detailed picture of its conduct.  Six workmen were employed at 3s a day, supervised by a foreman, Mr Edward Matthews. Morris Jones was in charge of the day-to-day management; Williams laid down the general direction of operations, but paid only occasional visits to the site.

The first phase of the work concentrated on tracing the south and north walls of the church, a far from easy task when so much of the foundation stone had been robbed.  On 25 August Williams directed the men (now augmented to ten) to work on the east end of the church, where the remains were confused.  Its western wall was located, but excavation focussed on the east end.  A trenching technique was employed to test for the existence of transepts, but the main method of excavation was one of ‘levelling’ or ‘clearing out.’  There is no evidence of any appreciation of the principles of stratification, and no attempt was made to differentiate between phases of construction using archaeological evidence.

Most of the work was completed by 29 September.  For two days Worthington G. Smith, one of the foremost archaeological draughtsman of the period, was engaged to make sketches of the remains and finds; many of them were later used to illustrate Williams’s accounts of the excavation.  Finally, the Earl of Powis had a fence built around the site to protect the remains, a necessary precaution after some unfortunate events during the dig:

During the excavation we had few visitors when the men were at work, but in the evenings, and particularly on Sundays, crowds of people visited the site and carried away pieces of tile or stones they could find.  This necessitated our taking away daily all tiles, carved stones, or other relics found. (69)

Encaustic tile from Strata Marcella Abbey

Considered by the standards of the day, the excavation was conducted with commendable competence (with the exception of a mistake in the dumping of spoil which prevented the full exploration of the west end of the church).  The plan and many details of the Abbey church were recovered.  Much of the credit was due to the herculean efforts of Morris Jones.  At the end of his report on the dig he wrote:

To the writer – a septuagenarian – there was an incidental advantage.  Eight weeks, or forty-eight working days, were occupied in the operations; the site of the Abbey is two miles from his house, and he drove his pony there (with hardly an exception) twice a day.  He generally spent five hours a day there (sometimes more) and put off all other engagements.  Therefore he travelled at least 500 miles, and spent 240 hours in the field.  There was but one wet day.  The result of his sojourn in the salubrious air of Strata Marcella was, that his health, which had not been strong, was improved, an intended and periodic autumnal visit to Buxton was dispensed with, and a doctor’s bill deferred for an indefinite period. (70)

Williams’s report, too, must be considered a success.  Although he was not an archaeologist of great note, his architectural background and his experience at Strata Florida and Abbey Cwmhir enabled him to interpret the discoveries with remarkable assurance, especially in view of the fact that nothing of Strata Marcella remained above ground.  Williams himself was well satisfied with the results, and was eager to press on with excavations at the sites of other Welsh monasteries – Basingwerk, Talley and Strata Marcella’s mother abbey, Whitland (70A).

With the fencing off of the site and the removal of the finds to the Powysland Museum the excavation came to an end.  Williams expressed the hope that future work might uncover the conventual buildings and remove the existing debris so that the excavated remains of the whole abbey could be preserved for visitors to see, but nothing was done, probably owing to Morris Jones’s failing health and death in 1893.

5   The Club after 1893

Jones’s death was almost the end of the Club.  So dependent had it been on his initiative, organisation and sheer hard work that on many occasions in the succeeding years the will to continue its work appeared to be lacking.  If the loss of its founder were not enough, the Club was unfortunate in losing the services of several other key members in rapid succession: Edward Rowley Morris, Abraham Howell, J. Bickerton Morgan and Griffith Edwards were all dead within two years.  W. Valentine Lloyd agreed to act as editor of MC, which continued to appear regularly for a while, but he became too ill to continue, and the volume for 1894 was late in publication.  Membership subscriptions remained uncollected, since the new Secretary, T. Simpson Jones, Morris Jones’s son, felt that he could hardly demand them when no issues of MC could be distributed (71).

Finally, it was decided that there was no alternative but to wind up MC.  At the 1895 meeting the Council felt

… bound to acknowledge the increasing difficulty of finding fresh materials and new workers to carry on the publication of the Collections … and have come, reluctantly indeed, to the conclusion that it will be well, at the end of next year, and the thirtieth volume, to bring the publication to a close. (72)

It was admitted that many parishes would be left without their histories having been recorded, but a substantial collection of material had already been made.  Rev. Elias Owen conceded the force of the Council’s reasoning, but could not wholly endorse its recommendations, when much important work remained to be done.  In reply D.R. Thomas argued that it would be possible to print outstanding articles before the end of MC’s publication, and in any case the Club could continue to publish supplementary volumes of ‘Montgomeryshire records’, which Richard Williams had undertaken to edit.  The Council’s proposition was put to the meeting and approved without opposition.

D.R. Thomas

But the end was long in coming.  Volume 29 was only completed at the end of 1896.  The editors reported to the annual meeting that year that two articles were ready for volume 30, but ‘beyond these they have nothing in hand, and it will therefore depend on members themselves how long they may have to wait for its issue’ (73).  Despite the poor outlook the Club’s leaders were unwilling to preside over its demise, and recommended a last desperate solution – amalgamation with another society.  The society was the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, whom the Club had already assisted in the mounting of an exhibition of ecclesiastical objects in Shrewsbury in connection with the Church Congress.  The proposal was to combine the journals of the two societies, ‘keeping distinct the portions relating to Montgomeryshire from those relating to Shropshire, so that the members of the Society would keep the volumes distinct.’  This must have seemed an unworkable scheme at the time, and, sure enough, the Secretary had to report a year later that ‘it does not seem to be at the present moment quite ripe for adoption’ (74).  But in any case a majority of members had by now repented of the decision to close MC; the President himself called it ‘quite absurd.’  D.R. Thomas, though he welcomed the change of heart, could not help reminding members of the fundamental difficulty:

… they had a number of members who had the leisure and the knowledge, as well as the opportunity; but when one pressed the matter upon them, the answer was that somebody else was the proper one to undertake the work.  In his despair he asked that somebody else, and that somebody else would not do it; and the result was they were in the same position as before. (75)

It may well have been Thomas who was responsible for the marked improvement that followed in the supply of material for MC.  Volume 31 (1900) included lengthy articles by Thomas Pryce on Llandysilio, Elias Owen on folklore and T.S. Jones on Guilsfield, an important parish that had sought an historian for many years without success.  From this point the future of MC was no longer in doubt, although the regularity and frequency of publication could not match the days of Morris Jones’s editorship.  Apart from MC itself, the Club was also producing volumes of ‘Montgomeryshire records’ under the editorship of Richard Williams, until his death in 1906 (an attempt to revive them, and to establish a separate Records Section of the Club failed in 1909).

Throughout this period it was D.R. Thomas who kept the MC afloat. The Secretary, Thomas Simpson Jones, by his own admission, was responsible for ‘secretarial work’ of such drudgery that he maintained a payment should be made by the Club for its performance (76).  Nevertheless it was work he was to continue until the year before his death in 1937, together with the curatorship of the museum.  Though qualified as a lawyer, he retired from practice in London after a few years to his father’s home and inherited wealth at Gungrog, where he devoted his time to voluntary service to the citizens of Welshpool.  Though he had varied interests and a wide knowledge of local history, he was an amateur antiquarian rather than an historian, and published little.  But at least he succeeded in carrying out his dying father’s injunction to ‘try and keep the Powysland Club going’ (77).

But though the Club was kept going, it could scarcely be said to be in a flourishing condition. In 1893 it could count 140 members; in succeeding years numbers dropped steadily: 130 in 1894, 114 in 1896, 103 in 1900, reaching a low point of 91 at the end of the Great War.  On the Club’s fortieth anniversary in 1907 Jones reported wistfully:

Reading the earlier reports of the annual meetings, they were struck by the much larger attendance and interest shown by the members … (78)

One member, Basil Evan Jones, made the brave suggestion two years later that the Club’s subscription of one guinea should be reduced by a half or even a quarter, in order to attract new members, but the risk of a reduced income was too much for his fellow Councillors.  Otherwise, apart from a circular produced in 1898 drawing attention to the value of MC, little effort was put into recruiting new members.  D.R. Thomas’s picture of existing Club members as ‘old fogeys’ was probably all too true (78A).

The museum was no longer formally a Club responsibility, but members still retained a proprietorial interest in it.  This was just as well, since it was now suffering from a degree of municipal neglect.  Stanley Leighton observed in 1896 that the fabric needed attention: pools of water were lying on the floor and dampness had affected the labels of objects; furthermore, the catalogue was so difficult to use that particular objects being sought could not be found (79).  He also drew attention to the perennial affliction of the museum, its tendency to attract exotica and souvenirs of significance to their donors but of no local interest.  A further problem that became apparent about the same time was the lack of museum funds to purchase Montgomeryshire antiquities as they came on the open market: auctions resulting from the sale of large houses and their contents were becoming more common.  In July 1898 the contents of Crosswood (Trawscoed), including portraits of Walter Davies and W.J. Bees, and Roman coins from Ystrad, Newtown were sold, but the museum was powerless to intervene.  This disappointment led the Club to establish a contingency fund for the purpose of purchasing local antiquities and books offered for sale (80).  But despite this the disposal of objects continued: in 1902 18 bronze palstaves discovered at Tanyglanau were sold privately after a dispute over their ownership (81), and the Council of the Club was unsuccessful in its attempts to trace and acquire them.

Though Welshpool Corporation fulfilled its obligations to repair the fabric of the museum, the exhibits remained neglected, until William Boyd Dawkins visited it in December 1898.  He pronounced to the annual meeting,

…  a large quantity [of material] was in the wrong place… The whole thing was … unintelligible, and useless to the ordinary person desirous of acquiring information. (82)

And he made the generous offer to rearrange the exhibits himself ‘so as to make the museum really useful to the student, and of general interest to the public.’  He had performed the same task at the Manchester Museum, when appointed curator there in 1869.  The methods he advocated were radical, especially regarding non-local material:

One of the first things was to burn and destroy, and he hoped they would give him power to burn and destroy so much of it as was a collection of monstrosities and horrors.

Boyd Dawkins’s offer was eagerly accepted and he set to work the following year, with the aid of a fund of donations organised by T.S. Jones.  The process was complete by 1902, thanks to the assistance of H.E. Forrest of Shrewsbury.  The exhibits had been cleaned, rearranged, labelled and placed in airtight display cases.  A ceremony was held in December 1902 at which Boyd Dawkins reopened the museum with an address, in which he noted its change of function since its establishment:

… 54 years ago the idea of a museum as they knew it did not exist.  In those prehistoric times a museum was looked upon as a place for curiosities of different sorts.  Pickled babies, five-legged sheep, rotten mummies, decayed snakes, or portraits of some aldermen whom the family did not care to keep in their own houses were dumped down in museums.  That was the old idea, but with the advancement of knowledge the museum had come to be looked upon as a centre of human enquiry and human thought.

In his view, museums were now essentially educational institutions and as such ought to be supported financially by education authorities.

Boyd Dawkins’s lead was not followed up, but a catalogue of the rearranged exhibits, suggested by the Earl of Powis in 1910, was prepared by T.S. Jones and Mr T. Hiles and published in MC after a long delay in 1922.  Hiles was responsible for tidying and rearranging the contents of the museum in 1916.  But then followed a long period of neglect.  Donations, often of the discredited ‘exotic’ kinds continued (two mummies’ heads and stuffed birds from Egypt arrived in 1903), but on a smaller scale than earlier.  War-time plans to erect a gallery on three sides of the museum foundered when peace brought dearer materials and labour.  The most interesting initiative was a suggestion, made in 1917 by Dr David Rees of Caersws, that the museum should collect items of domestic use, which were of little monetary value but which were rapidly disappearing as modern conveniences replaced them.  But by the 1920s a crisis had been reached.  T. S. Jones reported in 1920

It is a wonder that the museum held together, as they never spent any money upon it… (83)

‘They’ were Welshpool Corporation, who, though they were responsible for the upkeep of the museum, chose to restrict their activities to the minimum maintenance of the building’s structure, leaving the functioning of the museum largely to the Club.  Morris Jones’s strategy for the museum’s survival, that looked so promising in 1887, now appeared a failure.

Rodney’s Pillar

It should not be concluded, however, that the period after 1893 was entirely a story of degeneration in the Club’s affairs.  In two respects it was showing rather more interest than it had in the past.  One was the preservation of Montgomeryshire sites and monuments, as opposed to portable antiquities.  In 1893 it was reported to the Club that Rodney’s Pillar, built in 1781 on the Breiddin Hills to commemorate Admiral Rodney’s victory over the French in the West Indies, was in a dangerous state of disrepair.  After a delay of two years it was decided to spend £10 towards its preservation and to propose a subscription fund from the ‘gentlemen of Montgomeryshire’ to raise the required money.  By this means the Pillar was restored, though it was still subject to attack by vandals, reported by a correspondent of D.R. Thomas in 1900:

Looking through a telescope yesterday afternoon at 4 o’clock we saw five ruffians on the top of Breiddin Hill, throwing stones at the copper ball [lightning conductor] on Rodney’s Pillar.  One or two of them had taken their coats off, and were going to work in a most businesslike fashion.  Can nothing be done to stop this vandalism? (84)

– an anecdote that underlines the powerlessness of voluntary societies to preserve monuments from destruction at a time when state powers were yet undeveloped.

Five years later the Old Parliament House at Machynlleth was offered for sale.  A new member of the Club, Vaughan Dymock, promised a generous contribution towards the cost, if the Club would buy it.  T.S. Jones and D.R. Thomas visited Machynlleth but found that what was offered for sale was only part of the Parliament House, and that the figure being sought was an exorbitant one, so the issue was not taken further.

Lack of funds was a major drawback: T.S. Jones, giving evidence to the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales in 1909, reported that the Club was doing what it could to preserve the ancient monuments of the county, but ‘if the Commission could help them with a little surplus cash’ they could be more effective (85).

Caersws excavations, 1909

The other area for which the Club showed renewed enthusiasm was excavation, in particular of the Roman fort at Caersws.  The suggestion that a new excavation should be attempted at Caersws surfaced in 1900, after D.R. Thomas had been impressed by a visit to John Ward’s large-scale exploration of the Roman fort at Gelligaer (1899-1901).  The permission of the trustees of the late owner of the site, Edward Davies of Llandinam, was quickly sought and a sum of £10 was contributed towards the excavation from Club funds.  A separate subscription was launched at the same time.  The intention was to discover the period and nature of the fortifications.  Preliminary excavations took place in the following year of the defences and showed that, unlike Gelligaer, they were built of earth and not stone.  During the building of foundations for new housing outside the fort remains were also found of what was presumably the vicus; E.D. Rees, who had agreed to act as the Club’s on-site representative, collected the finds.  Caersws was visited in the summer by the Cambrians, who suggested the enlistment of a consultant (86).  There was then a long delay — possibly due to lack of money — until the Liverpool Committee, which the Club had supported on its establishment, began to take an interest in the site.  R.C. Bosanquet, one of its leading lights, conducted a survey of Roman sites in the county in 1908 and proposed to direct an excavation at Caersws in the following spring, with the help of the Club.  The Club welcomed the initiative and promised £25 towards the cost (a further £10 was later given).  The excavation, which Bosanquet never published, despite numerous promises to contribute an article to MC, disclosed four stone buildings in the centre of the fort, including the principia and praetorium.  It is worth noting that Bosanquet’s chronology of the site was seriously mistaken.  He supposed that occupation ceased in Severan times, contrary to the evidence of coins and Samian pottery: the interpretation of Samian ware types was still not perfect understood before the First World War (87).

An attempt was made by the Club to have the remains uncovered at Caersws preserved, but neither the County Council nor the owner of the site, David Davies MP, could be swayed by the argument that preservation was important, not only archaeologically but also educationally and for its value as a tourist attraction.  The finds from the excavations were handed over to the National Museum of Wales.

Bosanquet’s professional approach to excavation method was not typical of the practices employed by contemporary ‘amateur’ archaeologists in Montgomeryshire. In 1904 the Rev. E .K. Jones reported on a dig, not officially sponsored by the Club, on a tumulus at Staylittle.  His procedure, driving a cut through the centre, was indistinguishable from that used by Fenton and others a hundred years earlier.  Jones wrote to Boyd Dawkins:

I am very desirous that my work should not in any way be a hindrance to expert examination…  I have thought of digging further through this mound, and of opening one or two others.  Though possessing no knowledge whatever of mounds, urns, etc., we have tried to note all possible particulars as to the find. (88)

In another respect Montgomeryshire became a focus of attention by ‘professional’ archaeologists.  The county was chosen in 1908 by the newly established Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments for its first survey and inventory of ancient monuments.  The Commissioners were influenced in their choice by the work of the Powysland Club since 1867, though the published inventory is dismissive of the Club’s achievements in the field of archaeology, drawing attention to the limitations of a voluntary society:

The defect is one that is inherent in county societies where there is no strong directing organisation, and where each contributing member takes up his plot and ploughs his lonely furrow regardless of the researches or labours of his fellow members. (89)

But if the Commissioners thought that it was making good the deficiencies of local, voluntary workers, they were sadly mistaken.  The inventory, which now appears so woefully inadequate as a record of Montgomeryshire antiquities, was widely criticised at the time of its publication as unsatisfactory. The kindest comment appeared in the Arch. Camb. review:

The first county inventory must, to some extent, be an experiment.  The Commission has to get its hand in before it can show the world its best work’. (90)

D.R. Thomas, at the Club’s annual meeting in 1911, attacked it as vague, incomplete and unreliable.  The inspection of the monuments had been carried out by two men, neither of whom had any archaeological expertise: Edward Owen, an historian, and George Eyre Evans, an amateur antiquary.  The research work had been hurried — little time was available for searching public records — and from the beginning the aim of providing definitive accounts of monuments had been disregarded, as a remarkable passage from the introduction makes clear:

It has been no purpose of ours to provide [the reader] with a complete account of any single monument.  We have tried in each case to let him know the kind of monument he will find in each place… In no case have we essayed to tell him so much about a monument as to stifle his desire to pay it a personal visit. (91)

This policy led to many absurdly abbreviated descriptions of important sites; Strata Marcella Abbey, for example, meriting only eight lines.  The deficiencies of the inventory were conceded to the Club by Edward Owen:

If Montgomeryshire can congratulate itself upon being the first county undertaken by the Commissioners, it must also content itself with finding that the volume of its inventories displays the faults and imperfections incident to and inherent in an initial effort. (92)

H.J. Fleure

In 1916 D.R. Thomas died.  In the words of the Earl of Powis, ‘it was not too much to say that for several years he had been the main spring which had kept the work of the Club going.’  T.S. Jones correctly advised the annual meeting that ‘there will be some difficulty in carrying on the work of the Club.’  For some years, despite the war and its aftermath, the Club continued: a volume of MC was completed in 1918 and another in 1920, though there was no editor appointed to succeed D.R. Thomas.  Such a lack of confidence began to afflict the members.  In 1917 it was suggested that local field clubs should be invited to affiliate to the Club, and that it might look beyond the county boundaries, to Denbighshire and Flintshire, in order to increase membership and interest.  David Rees observed a year later that many of the Club’s previous roles had been taken over by the state, in the form of the Royal Commission and the Advisory Committee of the Board of Works, and that the government now viewed it simply as an educational institution.  Slowly life drained out of the Club.  Volume 40 of MC took eight years to complete.  The museum lay neglected, its structure deteriorating and its contents untouched.  There were six vacancies on the ten-member Council.  Finally, in 1926 the annual meeting was adjourned without the adoption of the annual report.  A committee was established to ‘inquire into the future of the Club, with special reference to the publication of its transactions and editorial arrangements’; in other words, to put forward a rescue plan.  The impetus behind this move came from an influx of new members from the flourishing Department of Geography at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth.  They included H.J. Fleure, E. Estyn Evans, R.U. Sayce and A. Stanley Davies; other new members were J.B. Willans, I.C. Peate of the National Museum and the brothers T. Davies Pryce and F.N. Pryce.  This addition of professional and enthusiastic talent heralded the rejuvenation of the Club.

 At the 1927 meeting Fleure was appointed editor, with Evans as his assistant, and the vacancies on the Council were filled.  MC was recast in a new, larger format to accommodate plans and maps in the text of articles, and began to appear with its former frequency.  In its content there was a new emphasis on archaeology: I.T. Hughes contributed the first systematic study of Montgomeryshire hill-forts, Mortimer Wheeler wrote on a tumulus at Garthbeibio, the Pryces reproduced the report of their excavation at the Roman fort at Forden Gaer, a project initiated by the Assistant Secretary of the Club, A. Stanley Davies.  Other excavations were sponsored when funds allowed.
Excursions were arranged during the summer. A new note of optimism about the Club’s prospects was sounded: a summary of its aims prepared by Walter Millard to encourage new members, instead of complaining that the subject matter for the county’s historians was almost worked out, revelled in the wealth of material still unexplored:

… our investigation into the work and life of the past may be said to go on ever widening; and the sixty-years-old programme for our Club’s activities, so far from being exhausted, seems to call rather for re-working, and at the same time for expansion in certain directions, in view of the general advance in archaeological learning and method of study during the last half-century or so. (93)

The renaissance of the Club reawakened interest in the museum.  In 1929 the Library Committee of Welshpool Corporation decided to commission a detailed report on its condition from Dr Cyril Fox, Director of the National Museum (the Powysland Museum had been affiliated to the National Museum since 1923).  A Museum Committee was set up to implement Fox’s recommendations, and within three years almost £1,000 had been spent on a new heating and lighting system, replastering of the walls and the replacement and repair of exhibition cases.  Many exhibits, including finds from the Roman forts at Forden Gaer, Pennal and Caersws, were displayed in new cases.  The museum was reopened to the public by the Mayor on 6 October 1932.  A definitive statement was at last forthcoming about the museum’s role, thus putting an end to almost 70 years of uncertainty:

The future policy of the museum is to specialise in collecting and exhibiting all that illustrates the history of Powys. (94)

After its revival the character of the Club tended towards the orthodox type of voluntary archaeological society, its two principal activities being the publication of MC and the arranging of lectures and excursions.  If it could no longer reproduce the dynamism of its early heroic days under Morris Jones and D.R. Thomas, nor was it again in danger of decline and extinction.



This paper was originally written in the early 1980s: corrections and updates would be welcome.  It was used as the basis of the J.D.K. Lloyd memorial lecture, given to members on the Powysland Club on 12 May 2018; I am very grateful to the Club’s officers for their invitation to deliver it.

In its early years the Club used the hyphenated form ‘Powys-land’, but throughout the text I have used the standard modern form ‘Powysland’.



Arch Camb      Archaeologia Cambrensis
CAA                 Cambrian Archaeological Association
MC                  Montgomeryshire Collections (the original title was Collections historical and archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire)
NLW                National Library of Wales

1. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxvi.
2. MC, vol.18, 1885, p.47.
3. Arch. Camb., 1867, p.78. ‘E.H.’ was probably Edward Hamer, one of the Powysland Club’s leading members.
4. Arch. Camb., 1867, p.176.
5. Biographical notices: Arch. Camb., 1893, p.181, MC, vol.27, 1893, p.215-20, Bye-Gones, 1 February 1893, p.18-20.
6. Arch. Camb., 1865, p.323-4.
7. Arch. Camb., 1866, p.400-12
8. Biographical notice: Bye-Gones, 1878-9, p.143.
9. The texts of both are reproduced in MC, vol.1, 1867-8, p.i-v.
10. Jones and Morgan quote Longueville Jones’s classification of antiquarian activity in his ‘manifesto’ in Arch. Camb., 1846: see Chapter 2, p.12. Later they issued his ‘questionnaire’ for the guidance of contributors.
11. See A. Hume, The learned societies and printing clubs of the United Kingdom, London, 1853, p.58-63, p.219-94.
12. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxv.
13. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxiii.
14. MC, vol.2, 1869, p.xxxi.
15, MC, vol.1, 1868, p.xx.
16. MC, vol.1, 1868, p.vii-viii.
17. Such a limitation was common in the printing clubs; at the 1869 meeting the number was raised to 200 (MC, vol.2, 1869, p.xv-xxxii).
18. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxv; ‘I think it would be an attraction which would draw in a good many new members, if a field-day or two could be organised every year in connection with the Powysland Club’: D.R. Thomas (MC, vol.23, 1889, p.xix).
19. MC, vol.1, 1868, p.xv-xvi.
20. MC, vol.1, 1868, p.xix.
21. MC, vol.29, 1895-6, p.xxv.
22. Arch. Camb., 1867, p.179.
23. MC, vol.13, 1880, p.xliv.
24. Bye-Gones, 1878-9, p.143.
25. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxiv.
26. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxv.
27. H.L. Jones, ‘On the antiquities of Montgomeryshire’, MC, vol.5, 1870, p.203-10; E.L. Barnwell, ‘The earlier antiquities of Montgomery’, MC, vol.3, 1870, p.415-52.
28. MC, vol.7, 1874, p.503.
29. T.G. Jones (‘Cyffin’), ‘Traces of Roman roads in or near the valley of the Vyrnwy’, MC, vol.17, 1884, p.37-48.
30. Bound with some copies of MC, vol.1, 1868.
31. MC, vol.11, 1878, p.xiv; plea repeated: MC, vol.15, 1882, p.xxix, MC, vol.22, 1888, p.xi, MC, vol.23, 1889, p.xiii, xviii.
32. MC, vol.1, 1868, p.ii.
33. Original proposal: MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxii, xxxix; revived: MC, vol.25, 1891, p. xxii-xxiii.
34. Cf Edward Hamer in MC, vol.10, 1877, p.231.
35. MC, vol.5, 1870, p.xix.
36. MC, vol.5, 1870, p.xxvi-xxxvii.
37. MC, vol.4, 1871, p.xl.
38. MC, vol.5, 1872, p.xxxix.
39. There were already many sizeable and weighty donations, including an ancient triptych, five armorial escutcheons and three large monumental effigies (Newtown and Welshpool Express, 14 October 1873, p.3).
40. MC, vol.6, 1873, p.xxi.
41. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 13 October 1874, p.8.
42. MC, vol.7, 1874,
42A. MC, vol.23, 1889, p.260.
42B. MC, vol.23, 1889, p.xix-xx.
43. ‘Copy of the conveyance, dated 16 July, 1874, to the Trustees of the Powysland Museum and Library’, Appendix to MC, vol.7, 1874. See below, p.22 for the School of Art, p.20 for the transfer of ownership.
44. MC, vol.7, 1874, p.lxxvii.
45. Back cover of MC, vol.6, part 3, 1873.
46. MC, vol.7, 1874, p.xli-lxxvi.
47. There had been few deliberate excavations for antiquities in the county, and little large scale building work that might have uncovered many. Almost all the local museum objects were isolated chance finds: the exceptions include a few discovered during the restoration of Welshpool Church in 1870 and others found in the course of construction of the Cambrian Railway.
48. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.lvii.
49. MC, vol.13, 1880, p.xxxviii.
50. Successful purchases included a bronze bell from Llangystennin, bought by Morris Jones in 1891 and paid for with the aid of an ad-hoc subscription from some Club members (MC, vol.25, 1891, p.327-50).
51. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.lvii.
52. MC, vol.10, 1877, p.xxxiii.
53. MC, vol.13, 1880, p.xxiv; delay: cover of part 2, October 1880.
54. MC, vol.12, 1879, p.xxxvi.
55. MC, vol.12, 1879, p.xxxvii.
56. MC, vol.13, 1880, p.xxviii.
56A. The library had grown up alongside the museum and was large enough by 1880 for one Club member to suggest that it should be granted the status of a national library.
57. These were D.P.Owen and W.W.A. Rogers (NLW, D.R. Thomas MSS, NLW 14661B, E.R. Morris to D.R. Thomas, 18 October 1887).
58. D.R. Thomas MSS, NLW 14674B, Morris C. Jones to the Mayor of Welshpool, 3 October 1887.
59. J.A. Davies, Education in a Welsh rural county, 1870-1973, Cardiff, 1973, p.54-7.
60. MC, vol.8, 1875,
61. MC, vol.16, 1883,
62. MC, vol.18, 1885, p.xiii.
63. ‘A series of queries, hints and suggestions’ (see note 10 above).
64. MC, vol.3, 1870, p.xxviii.
65. MC, vol.9, 1876, p.xxxix.
66. The Times, 11 April 1877, reprinted in MC, vol.10, 1877, p.425. The writer signs himself simply as ‘C’, almost certainly an abbreviation for Clark, who had recently surveyed the moated mounds and published the results in MC (vol.10, 1877, p.329-48).
67. MC, vol.12, 1879, p.21.
68. MC, vol.2, 1869, p.xxix.
69. MC, vol.25, 1891, p.158 n.1.
70. MC, vol.25, 1891, p.158-9.
70A. Arch. Camb., 1892, p.16-17.
71. MC, vol.28, 1894, p.xiv.
72. MC, vol.29, 1895-6, p.xi.
73. MC, vol.29, 1895-6, p.xxii.
74. MC, vol.30, 1897-8, p.204. Mr Auden, Chairman of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, wrote to D.R. Thomas explaining the many problems of a union between the societies: NLW 14692C, letter dated 21 January 1897.
75. MC, vol.30, 1897-8, p.206.
76. NLW 14659B, T.S. Jones to D.R. Thomas, 19 September 1893.
77. MC, vol.44, 1936, p.x.
78. MC, vol.35, 1910, p.x.
78A. MC, vol.33, 1904, p.xxi.
79. MC, vol.29, 1895-6, p.xxv.
80. MC, vol.30, 1897-8, p.xviii-xix.
81. MC, vol.32, 1902, p.xvi.
82. MC, vol.30, 1897-8, p.xxiii.
83. MC, vol.39, 1920, p.xxxv.
84. NLW 14666B (D.R. Thomas MSS), Thomas Pryce to D.R. Thomas, 30 July 1900.
85. MC, vol.35, 1910, p,xxxi.
86. MC, vol.32, 1902, p.156.
87. Bosanquet’s notes were edited and published in 1940 by F.N. Pryce (MC, vol.46, 1940, p.67-90).
88. NLW 14658B (D.R. Thomas MSS), E.K. Jones to W.B. Dawkins, 5 August 1903, reported in MC, vol.33, 1904, p.158. The description of the dig reported in Arch. Camb., 1904, p.285 was nominated by the Montgomeryshire Inventory as ‘the least unsatisfactory account of the opening of any of the Montgomeryshire burial mounds’ (p.xiv).
89. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions in Wales and Monmouthshire, An inventory of the ancient monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire. 1: County of Montgomery. London, 1911, p.xxi. On the choice of Montgomeryshire, see First report (to 31st December 1909) of the Royal Commission (Cd.5285), 1910, para.32.
90. Arch. Camb., 1912, p.391.
91. Inventory, p.xxi.
92. MC, vol.37, 1915, p.2.
93. MC, vol.40, 1928, p.iii.
94. MC, vol.43, 1934, p.10.

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