Wales: Castles and Glowworms

A page from Mary's diary

We descended a dark gloomy winding stairway not knowing where it would lead us, and found at the bottom the dungeon, a dark gruesome place, enough to make me shiver & remember with doublefold horror all the tales of cruelty & persecution with which history abounds.

The previous post introduced my great grandmother, Mary Davies, and the diary of a trip with her cousin Maggie to Wales in 1892, when she was 20. The passage above refers to Oystermouth Castle on the outskirts of Swansea, the city nearest to Pontardulais, the town of her father’s birth.

Despite her detailed depictions of places, Mary never describes people. She offers no physical characteristics, none of her impressions, and no whisper of her feelings about them, although her enjoyment of young men can be read between the lines. I find this reticence perplexing and frustrating.

The girls meet people almost every day, receiving visits and taking walks with John Thomas, Mr. Richards, Miss Jones, Annie Roberts, the Misses Williams. At the homes of their new friends, they chat, sing, and dance. Mary remarks, “One peculiarity we have noticed is, no one has asked us to take off our wraps, & all places we go to we sit with them on.”

By early June, Mary has a beau, Mr. Will Bevan, who takes her walking almost every day. A few weeks later, Mr. Benson appears, conveniently for Maggie, and “the boys” become known as “the two B’s.” When I read this diary as a teenager, I couldn’t figure out why everyone was constantly going for walks. Aside from the absence of cars or horse-drawn wagons, I’m now realizing that rural lanes were the ideal setting for flirtation and romance.

However, the two B’s stop by the house one rainy evening:

We decided it was too bad to go walking, & although contrary to the custom in Pontardulais the boys consented to spend the evening. They sent out for sweets & oranges, & with eating & playing dominoes we spent a very pleasant evening.

This entry ends with three lines of shorthand.

My mother and I used to speculate about the four shorthand entries scattered through the diary. Mary had learned Pitman shorthand, which was later superseded by the Gregg system. My mother finally discovered a neighbor who knew Pitman and could translate Mary’s code. The friend, however, felt she should honor Mary’s desire for secrecy and refused to tell us what they said.

More compelling than a romance novel, the account of my great grandmother’s flirtation has completely charmed me. For instance, on July 10, after traipsing the countryside for hours, Mary, Maggie, and Mr. Bevan are heading home after dark. Maggie has hurt her ankle, and the girls are tired.

All the glowworms Mr. Bevan saw he picked up & put on my hat, & despite our weariness everything amused us & we were laughing all the time. We finally arrived home & had our usual cup of cocoa, after which Mr. Bevan left for his two-mile walk home.

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3 Responses to Wales: Castles and Glowworms

  1. Just lovely!!! What an amazing experience to be able to read these passages and look back in time in this way. Thank you for sharing with us.
    Mary Anne

  2. barbara may says:

    she is quite the writer-delightful reading- how lucky are you?

    • visnow77 says:

      Yes, it is a treasure! Be sure you write something to leave to your descendants, and hopefully your kids will save it. Thanks for reading. See you at the wedding!

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