Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Who Carved the Lewis Chessmen?

One of the blogs I visit regularly is God of Wednesday. Nancy Marie Brown's blog about Iceland - the horses, the landscape and the history and folklore. Just recently she's been talking about the book she's written called Ivory Vikings, in which she considers the history of the Lewis chessmen in relation to Iceland.
Her theory is that the chessmen were carved on Iceland, which was certainly a source of walrus ivory, by Margaret the Adroit, hailed as the best carver in Iceland in the Saga of Bishop Pall. She was a member of his household.
The idea that Iceland was the source of the chessmen had been written off by earlier scholars, who had the idea that Iceland was a poor backwater, incapable of producing artists of the calibre of the carver of the chessmen, and too poor to afford the large amount of walrus ivory that went into the pieces. However, Nancy Marie Brown argues that Iceland was going through a Golden Age at this time, and Bishop Pall was wealthy, well-educated nobleman, with several artists in his retinue, including Margaret.
To me, this seems the best theory that's been put forward so far.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Stephen Quigg, Scottish folk singer

I have a cassette (yes, a cassette tape!) which is called Catch Me If You Can, by Stephen Quigg. Way back in 1985, I took my gran on a coach tour to Scotland, and on a couple of nights, when there was no entertainment laid on in the hotel, we went down into the small town (I think we were in Mallaig) to a local pub to listen to a young folk singer.
The set was the same both nights, but we really enjoyed ourselves, and I bought the cassette.
Last Wednesday at the acoustic evening I go to, one of the singers had been singing Scottish songs, and I sang The Dark Island, which I had learned from this cassette. I thought, for a bit of fun, I'd learn the words of Working for McBraynes, the song Stephen Quigg wrote about the ferry company in Scotland, to sing next time George and his friend came along.
So today I picked up the cassette and wondered what had become of Stephen Quigg - had he ever made it as a folk singer? What was he doing now?
I found his website straight away - it's a fairly unusual name, after all - and yes, he did make it as a folk singer. He joined a band called the McCalmans, and now sings with his Danish wife Pernille as The Quiggs. His website is www.stephenquigg.com
So now I'll have to buy some of his back catalogue - and I'm definitely going to learn Working for McBraynes!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Lady Charlotte Guest and the Mabinogion

Nearly two weeks ago, I went to Hay Castle to see the first fifteen minutes of a film called The Dancing Floor, inspired by the Welsh mythology which was preserved in the collection of stories called the Mabinogion. There was music, on crwth, pipes, guitar and cello, and a storyteller who told one of the tales - of Llew Llaw Gyffes, and the Woman of Flowers, of magic and betrayal and a hero who is reborn. They have a crowd funder going at Indigogo, and it really is a beautiful film, well worth supporting.

Also there that evening was a great great grand daughter of Lady Charlotte Guest (I think I've got the right number of greats). She spoke about her illustrious ancestor - because Lady Charlotte Guest translated the Mabinogion from Medieval Welsh into English and popularised it for the first time.
She would seem to be an unlikely candidate for the task - she was born in Lincolnshire, the daughter of wealthy and aristocratic parents, but she shocked polite society when she married an ironmaster from South Wales, who was twice her age! Josiah Guest was also the first MP for Merthyr Tydfil, and later was made a baronet.
When she arrived at Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil, at the big house next to the ironworks, at the age of 21, she began to learn Medieval Welsh. She was already a linguist, having learned Latin, Greek, French and Italian with her brother (she fell for the tutor) and then went on to teach herself Arabic, Hebrew and Persian. When her work was published, Alfred, Lord Tennyson himself commented on the beauty of her language.
She and her husband were interested in education, and built several schools for the working people locally. She also started a library, at first for a fee of 1/6, but in 1853, shortly after her husband died, it was made free of charge.
On her husband Josiah's death in 1852, she also took charge of the running of the ironworks, at the time the largest in the world, until she handed it over to her oldest son Ivor. By this time, she had ten children. Ivor later married Lady Cornelia Spencer-Churchill, an aunt of Winston Churchill.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Lyn Webster Wilde, writer and film maker

Tomorrow evening, I'm going to be at Hay Castle for a showing of the first 15 minutes of a film called The Dancing Floor - the event is to publicise the crowd-funder that Lyn Webster Wilde has launched in order to make the rest of the film. It's a story about a half-Welsh, half-Indian woman who comes up from London to Wales when she inherits a cottage - and gets involved with Welsh mythology. More information about the film can be found at www.lynwebsterwilde.wordpress.com

A few years ago, I went to a couple of writing courses that Lyn Webster Wilde ran in Hay - I learned a lot! I also started to look out for some of the books that she had written, especially Becoming the Enchanter, and On the Trail of the Women Warriors.
Becoming the Enchanter is the story of Lyn's discovery of the world of Welsh mythology, and On The Trail of the Women Warriors is about her search for the Amazons of Greek mythology. Both are fascinating - and the Women Warriors is, of course, right up my street, with my interest in fighting women throughout history. Both also involve a search for women's power, in mythology and history.