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Montgomery b&b, guesthouse and hotel accommodation

Montgomery in Powys

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Montgomery, Powys, Most of the surviving houses are Elizabethan, Jacobean, Queen Anne, or Georgian. But one of the best known of the houses connected with Montgomery, the half-timbered dwelling built in 1675, called Lymore and once part of the property of the Earl of Powis, no longer exists. In spite of protests, it was demolished in the 1930s. But there are various contemporary survivals, particularly towards the Dovey valley. Although they originated as a device known to the Romans against the dangers of settlement in softish soil, they are an importation from Shropshire, and apparently not of Welsh production.

As the traditional capital of Montgomeryshire, the town seems to stand a little apart from the history of the rest of Powys. Its name is that of a conqueror, Roger of Montgomery, a Norman appointed to serve as a Lord Marcher in the reduction of the bastion of Wales. Welshmen call the place Trefaldwyn (Baldwin's Town) because a successor of the earlier Normans, one Baldwin de Boiler, built the second castle in the days of Henry I by way of reasserting alien supremacy over the natives. This too led the precarious life proper to a border castle, and it had to be replaced by a third, built by Henry III in 1223.

Only a few fragments of this, in turn, now remain. It was the home of the Herbert family (connections of the family holding the earldom of Powis), including two of its most distinguished members. Lord Herbert of Cherbury and his brother George Herbert. The first, being among other things a distinguished diplomat, attempted to keep a philosophic neutrality during the Civil Wars of the 17th century, and surrendered the castle on demand to the Sir Thomas Myddelton who did so much to uplift the cause of Puritanism and Parliament in these parts of Wales. His reward was to see the castle destroyed, five years after its surrender, in 1649.

The church, like some others in this still rural area, has a magnificence that seems out of proportion to the size of the town. It dates from the middle of the 14th century, and one of its more important features is the rood-screen of great beauty, which was brought there from the place that gave Lord Herbert his title, the small town of Chirbury. When in position there, the screen belonged to the abbey church, demolished at the Reformation. The seating-stalls have misericords; the font is Late Norman. One of the memorials is to Richard Herbert, the father of the famous brothers mentioned above. In the graveyard is the well-known spot where one John Newton Davies was buried, convicted of murder in 1821 but always protesting his innocence. As proof, he swore that no grass would grow on the grave of a man wrongly condemned; and for a long time it was said that no grass grew on his own. Now, however, some apparently grows there after all. This does not necessarily mean that John's protestation of innocence is disproved; perhaps after more than 100 years he has forgiven his accusers.

Montgomery lies in the lowlands not far from pleasant places like Llanmerewig, Sam, Kerry, and the valley in which Llanidloes stands. It can look South to the two Black Mountains; or westward to the moors of Carno and the shoulder of the Plynlimon escarpment above Dylife. But its memories belong rather to the East to that long marchland in which Chirbury stands.

Although only 3 miles from Montgomery, Chirbury is 2 miles across the border. It is a very charming village; and it is not only part of the history of Montgomery the town, but part of the land of Powys. On his map published in the last quarter of the 16th century, one Humfreydus Lhuydus (Humphrey Lhuyd) of Denbigh insists that Powys should still be shown as a division of Wales setting a triangle from the Dovey mouth to Chester and to Neath upon the Severn, running its English frontier between the two latter points along the courses of the Dee and Severn. In this he had some justification, since, until its abolition under the Protectorate, there was some revival of the idea of Powys in the setting-up of the Court and Council of Wales, with its capital at Ludlow. After the turmoil of the Middle Ages had settled into the strong, centralized government of the Renaissance with the accession of Henry VII after Bosworth, the whole country was subdivided into these councils, and Wales and the marchlands found, under the common government of Ludlow, an end to their internal disputes. To mark what he considered to be the Cambro-British origin of the place, Lhuyd wrote it down on his map as Lhudlow. The quiet place of Clun in Shropshire he marks under its Welsh name Colynwy; Church Stretton is Strethon; Bishop's Castle is Tre Escop; and Oswestry, Croys Oswald. Shrewsbury is Ymwythig; Worcester, Caer Frangon. Each place of significance has its original Latin name attached; for Powys was proud to be the direct heir of Rome not only against the invading Saxon but also against recalcitrant Britons of North and South. Indeed, this largely forgotten fact is one of the keys to the politics of medieval Wales. If the Princes of Powys appeared from time to time to seek allies among the Normans against the Welsh, and among the Welsh against the Normans, it was because they were conscious of their distinct cultural and national identity. Cultural especially, perhaps; for, as the heirs of the Cunedda who in the 5th century first set on foot the attempt to unite and organize the Roman-British province after the decline of the Empire, they were aware of a sense of a civilization that, in the Roman tradition, was superior to race, and the Welsh name for the Welsh people today is Cymry, meaning allies or combined peoples.

The marchlands that succeeded to the lost Kingdom of Powys, with its capital at Pengwern, have been made by this sense into a community that is half Welsh, half English; and its poets and other writers have been masters of a special kind of literature, combining subtle Welsh literary forms the unexpected adjective that carries a whole set of associations, the quick transference of thought from image to image with a nervous and concentrated English phraseology. The last master of this Anglo-Welsh poetry was Dylan Thomas: his predecessor was George Meredith. But among the earliest who so used the English language with a Welsh mind were the so-called Metaphysical poets of the 17th century. And of these the brothers Lord Herbert of Cherbury and George Herbert count among the greatest.

Allegedly the family was at first of Norman blood, since it was founded by a Herbertus Camerarius who came over as a close attendant of the Conqueror. In the 13th century a descendant of his had lands granted to him in Wales, and he began the praiseworthy practice of marrying a Welsh heiress that has been consistently followed ever since. The closest connection the family had was with the House of Pembroke. But in his famous Autobiography Lord Herbert, who is full of tales about the accidents at arms of his ancestors, is proudest of his great-great-grandfather, Sir Richard Herbert of Coldbrook in Monmouthshire, who “passed through the army of the northern men twice with his pole-axe in his hand and returned without any mortal hurt”. Not even that hero of romantic fantasy, Amadis of Gaul, says Lord Herbert, could surpass such a feat; and the tale strangely echoes Hamlet's description of his own father. Next in prominence was Herbert's great-grandfather, “steward in the time of Henry VIII of the lordships and marches of North Wales, East Wales and Cardiganshire, a man of power but also of true justice”.

The Autobiography of this Edward, Lord of Cherbury, is fascinating. It presents him as Shakespeare's Friar Laurence might have presented Romeo's companion Tybalt. For the way in which the duels, the insults and challenges duly repaid in the streets of London, the gallantries in foreign courts and the activities of war and intrigue, are described reminds one that his brother George was a priest. There is a curious note in Lord Herbert's account of his meeting with lovely women; though by no means a Puritanical one, it suggests that his admiration of beauty was too sincere to ask for possession. He had indeed a Platonic frame of mind, and was welcomed in his day as the successor and equal of Francis Bacon. Like Bacon, Lord Herbert attempted a new view of all philosophy; he embodied it in De Veritate. More luckily than Bacon, he established himself as a true poet. George Herbert, the priest, could write:

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridall of the earth and skie;
The dew shall weep thy fall tonight,
For thou shalt die.

Sweet spring, lull of sweet dayes and roses.
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My musick shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.

His brother Edward, asking whether love should continue for ever, wrote:

So when one wing can make no way,
Two joined can themselves dilate;
So can two persons propagate
When singly either would decay.

So when from hence we shall be gone
And be no more, nor you nor I,
As one another's mystery
Each shall be both, yet both be one.

The mixture of intense feeling with ruthless logic, characteristic of the Metaphysical school of writing and so much in tune with an age of scientific discovery and speculation, is stronger in Lord Herbert in these extracts than in his more frequently praised brother George. They are from a poem worthy to stand with those of Donne, also a Welshman of Powys and the master of them all.

Nearby towns: Clun, Craven Arms, Llanfair Caereinion, Newtown, Welshpool

Nearby villages: Abermule, Acton, Berriew, Bettws Cedewain, Bishops Castle, Brockton, Bromlow, Bryn, Castle Caereinion, Chirbury, Church Stoke, Forden, Hyssington, Hyssington, Kerry, Leighton, Llandyssil, Lydham, Mainstone, Manafon, Meadowtown, Sarn, Shelve, Snead, Trelystan, Worthen

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