Reading The antiquities of Laugharne (sic) and Pendine by Mary Curtis (1880)

Mary Curtis offers some new West Waelian rituals I’d never encountered in her 1880 preamble around Laugharne, St Clears and Pendine. The Weddings of the 19th Century in Pendine sound like communal (if carnivorous) fun:

There will be a round or two of Beef, half-a-dozen roast geese, two or three legs of mutton, plenty of potatoes, greens, cabbages, cauliflowers, plenty of good bread, plum-puddings, rice-puddings. A plate will be handed round, and whatever donations you please to bestow on the young couple that day will be thankfully received and cheerfully repaid whenever called for on a similar occasion. After the dinner, the party will remove into another room, there will be a pint of beer for twopence, a cake for a penny, plenty of pipe and tobacco for nothing.
New Year is not quite Mari Lwyd in Pendine

Curtis then continues with more customs – here is a new New Year custom for me, or rather an Old Hen Galan custom (the old Welsh New Year which she seems to ascribe to 12th January and not the established 13th January) –

The little children of Pendine still keep up the old custom of bringing New Year’s water to the houses on Old New Year’s Day, 12th January, throwing it plentifully the entrance and then singing before the houses … very ancient pieces of poetry.

Another custom described is Break Lent’s Neck –

The people of Pendine used to go very early on the morning of Easter Sunday upon the hill behind the Spring Well; when arrived at the part just over the sea, they threw stones into it, meaning by that to ‘Break Lent’s Neck’ which has been corrupted into Break Land’s Neck. The struggle was who should be the first to throw a stone: hence the name of the hill, ‘Break Lent’s Neck’.

The use of White-Thorn (banish away those demons sister) –

In Pendine, and parts around it, was usual, on 12th may to plant a white-thorn tree at the door of the house and procure it from a neighbouring parish. I could find no reason for this besides that of serving to throw articles of clothing over it to dry. No doubt there was a superstition attached to it. On All Hallows Eve they hung up branches of the Caer tree and the white-thorn at the door of the house to keep witches away; stuffed pieces of it in the cracks of the door, and all around it.
The emergence of fairies in Pendine
(not so Cottingly after all- but a leap in the physiological imagination) –

Pendine has been famous for its fairies and witches. In a meadow behind the great House the fairy-rings are seen… The traditions about the fairies may possibly be accounted for from the evidence, as it appears probable, of a race of diminutive stature among the Celtic prople in pre-historic times. On the borders of Llandyssilio parish, five miles from Narberth, at a part called Mein an’r Gwyr, have been found very diminutive urns, bronze weapons and stone celts- a sword or dagger in a low carnedd or stone heap, so diminutive says Mr J. Fenton, as to be unfit for use by an ordinary adult.

And an arresting image of fairies attending church –
The story goes that the fairies frequently visited Pendine. On one occasion they attended Divine service in the church one Sunday, and behaved well. Before they entered, they hung their cloaks on a sunbeam, for they were wet with a shower.

Category: Essays