Welcome to the blog zone of Nick Brunger, Magician & Storyteller; proprietor of The Spooky Magic Company and award-winning guide of The Creepy Carmarthen Tour; not to mention performer of Strange Tales from the Darker Side and teller of Ghost Stories, appearing somewhere spooky near you.
Carmarthenshire has a wonderfully rich and varied history with more than its share of weird and wonderful events from the past. You can find out about some of them on the Creepy Carmarthen Tour each Wednesday evening between now and October, and at the end of this month as part of the Llandeilo Literary Festival. But just for now here is a selection of some of my favourite snippets of local history.
The recruit who chopped off his finger
Carmarthen men have a proud history of service in the British Army, with monuments around the town marking those who died in conflicts ranging from the Crimean War to the Korean conflict of the nineteen fifties. In 1846 a recruiting party visited Carmarthen with the aim of finding likely young men willing to join the ranks.
They found Gabriel Davies drinking his friends in one of the local pubs and, after the sergeant had plied him with ale, got him to accept “the Queen’s shilling”. Accepting that coin from the recruiter was as good as a contract and “Billy” as he was known was destined for a career in the forces.
However, Billy soon sobered up and regretted his impulsive decision. But how to get out of military service? He decided that the army probably wouldn’t want a handicapped man. So he pulled out the clasp knife he kept in his pocket and tried to cut off his trigger finger.
His friends were horrified and managed to wrestle the knife from him. Undeterred he then tried to bite his finger off but that proved too difficult a task. Not to be defeated he left the pub and, using the axe the landlord used for cutting up firewood, hacked off the offending digit.
So, no trigger finger – and no career in the army either. His guess was right, the army no longer wanted him and he was discharged from his duty once he had handed back the shilling to the NCO.
The man who killed a king
Wealthy Carmarthenshire aristocrat Rhys ap Thomas had been a boyhood friend of Henry Tudor, a pretender to the English throne.
So when Henry landed with his troops in Pembrokeshire he turned to his old ally and asked for his support.
But Rhys had sworn an oath of loyalty to King Richard III declaring that he would only let an invading army pass “over my body”. “I’ve given my word,” he told his friend, “My word is my bond.”
“Were those your very words?” Henry asked. “Then we can deal with that.” He got Rhys to stand underneath a bridge while he marched his army over the top.
“There, we have walked over your body,” he told him. “You never told the king that it would be your dead body did you?”
Honour satisfied the two men joined forces and met King Richard’s army twenty-two days latter at Bosworth. Despite being outnumbered three-to-one by the monarch’s forces Henry triumphed.
According to Welsh legend it was Rhys himself who struck the blow that killed the king, hacking off the back of his skull with an axe. For his part in putting Henry VII on the throne Rhys was rewarded with land, titles and great wealth, effectively becoming king of Wales.
The last public execution
David Evans prepared to meet his maker as he stood on the scaffold, the hangman’s noose around his neck. In front of him fifteen thousand local people stood on Spilman Street waiting to see him kick and twist as his life ebbed away.
He had been sentenced to death in 1829 for the cruel and calculated murder of his girlfriend, Hannah, who he stabbed to death on a Sunday afternoon stroll.
At the signal from the prison governor the executioner kicked away the stool from under Evans’s feet and down fell the prisoner. Down fell the gallows too, the woodwork collapsing on top of luckless murderer.
“Let him go,” the crowd called, “He’s innocent, let him go.” In those days people believed that if the execution failed then it was a sign from God that the prisoner was blameless.
Evans believed it too. The Carmarthen Journal quotes him as calling out: “No hang, no hang, no hang, no! No gentleman was ever hanged twice.”
But the hangman was not inclined to show mercy. “No sir,” he said. “I have sworn my duty to hang you by the neck until you are dead. So, up you go and down you drop and may the Lord have mercy on you.”
Once the gallows had been repaired the execution was carried out again, this time to the hangman’s complete satisfaction.
A highwayman hangs
Edward Higgins found it easy to fight off the two men who tried to apprehend him when he was caught red-handed breaking in to a house in the coastal town of Laugharne. His bad luck was to also encounter their dog which bit him and refused to let go.
Higgin’s arrest was a major coup for the authorities. The man was a notorious highwayman with a price on his head, wanted for murder and burglary as well as for his criminal activities on the highways and byways of both England and Wales.
Thousands crowded around the hilltop at Pensarn to watch his execution with the well-to-do paying the hangmen a handsome bribe to be allowed to step on to the scaffold and touch the dead man’s hand.
The sentence of the court had been that Higgins should be hanged, drawn and quartered, a throw-back to earlier times when the condemned were cut down after being throttled by the noose, revived by the executioner who would then castrate and disembowel them while still alive before cutting up their body into quarters.
In 1767 this practice had changed a little and criminals were now hanged until they were dead before the body was cut into bits. The hangman and the governor of the gaol would make a little extra on the side by holding the body’s dissection in public.
In Higgin’s case his corpse had been sold on to a local surgeon who wanted a fresh corpse so his “apprentices” could benefit from some practical anatomy lessons.
The doctor opened up the highwayman’s chest cavity to begin the gruesome work – at which point they discovered that Higgin’s heart was still beating. Although he had been allowed to hang for the statutory hour after execution he was not yet dead.
The surgeon quietly “finished him off” before continuing with his work.
Hotel landlord killed in a bullfight
Hunting, cock-fighting and other cruel sports were a popular feature of local life two centuries ago. Carmarthen was best known as a venue for bull-baiting and the town was famous for its “fighting dogs’.
The main venue was the market square in front of The Guildhall where a ring had been set into the cobbles.
The poor bull was tethered to the ring by a chain which was fastened in turn to the ring through its nose. While the terrified creature was unable to escape the dogs were trained to rip and tear at its flesh with the best hounds aiming to bite the bull’s head to score the most points.
Not that the dogs escaped scot-free and many of them were killed or maimed by the bull during the course of the contest.
This cruel sport was actually sponsored by Carmarthen Town Council and met with approval from the local butchers who believed that bull-baiting tenderized the meat.
The practice was outlawed in the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 but not before there had been a notable human casualty of the “sport”.
The landlord of the Bull Head Hotel on Lammas Street found himself rather too close to the action than he would have liked when the press of people in the crowd forced him directly in front of the bull. The horn tore into his stomach causing a mortal wound.
He was carried back to his hotel where, accord to contemporary reports, it took him three days to die of his wounds.
Eight year old charged with murder
Carmarthen’s courts have seen many a murderer stand in the dock over the course of the centuries. However, no case was crueller than that of an eight year-old girl who faced the charge of killing her brother and sister aged four and six.
This country was at war with the Spanish at the time and local people were warned of the prospect of an invasion from the sea and a special watch was kept along the coast.
The children all heard rumours about the Spaniards and how cruel they were to the people they captured. Adults were killed or enslaved, they said, while children would be eaten alive.
One night the children’s parents were away from home and there was a terrific thunderstorm. The youngsters mistook the sound of the thunder for Spanish guns.
Terrified that they might fall victim to the invaders the little girl decided to take matters into her own hands. Rather than be taken by the Spaniards and suffer the terrible fate that had been forecast the little girl decided to kill her siblings and then to kill herself.
Using her father’s billhook she was successful in despatching her brother and sister and then tried to commit suicide by throwing herself in to the river but was saved from drowning by her neighbours.
She was put on trial for the murders in the old Guildhall which stood in the centre of the town. Mercifully she was discharged by the courts.
History does not recorded her name only the scant details of the trial which took place around 1742.
Beware the drunken driver
One the main roads through Carmarthenshire carries a grim warning of the perils of drunken driving. In 1935 Edward Jenkins was the driver of the mail coach taking its load of letters, parcels and passengers from Gloucester to Carmarthen.
It was a responsible job and the coach would stop regularly at the roadside inns and taverns to pick up the post and to change horses. Unfortunately Jenkins would also use the opportunity to stock up on ale and by the time he left Brecon heading towards Llandovery everyone on board could see that he was drunk.
Driving at breakneck speed along the winding road Jenkins encountered a farm cart blocking the way. Trying to avoid it he drove the coach off the road, plunging down one-hundred-and-twenty feet to the river below.
There were five passengers on board as well as the driver and his guard. The coach was reported as being “smashed to atoms”. Miraculously they all survived.
The Royal Mail erected a monument to mark the site of the accident and to warn all road users of the perils of drunk driving. Jenkins was fined £5 and lost his job.
That monument to Jenkin’s folly can still be seen in a small layby alongside the A40.
The thrice times buried butler
Henry Tremble, the butler at Dolaucothi Hall in the north of Carmarthenshire had ambitions to better himself. So when the landlord of one of the local pubs retired he asked his employer if he could take over running the tavern.
Judge John Johnes knew that Tremble was a man of good character and had all but promised him that he would become the new tenant of the Dolaucothi Arms. However, the Judge had heard rumours about the butler’s wife, Martha, who was a little too fond of the bottle. He told his servant that while he would do an excellent job Martha was likely to drink away the profits. Instead he was giving the tenancy of the pub to another local man.
Tremble was furious and a blazing row broke out between the two men, ending with the Judge giving his butler a week’s notice.
During those seven days the servant hatched a plan to revenge himself for his disappointment. On the eve of his final day in employment he wrote a suicide note leaving all his savings to his daughter so that she could provide for her brothers and sisters.
On Saturday 19th August 1976 the judge’s daughter caught Tremble in the act of stealing the family silver. Grabbing his master’s shotgun he hunted down the Judge to his study where he blasted him in the belly with both barrels before seriously wounding the daughter.
“Tremble did it. Mind he is taken,” the judge told those who came to his aid before he died.
The butler fled to the family home in the nearby village of Caeo where he held the police at bay for some time before finally committing suicide.
While the Judge’s funeral attracted thousands of mourners, Tremble was buried with little ceremony in an unmarked grave behind the village church. But local people were unhappy that both the murderer and his victim were buried in the same graveyard.
A few weeks later a group of villagers took it on themselves to dig up the butler’s body and to move it to another cemetery at Llanddulas in Breconshire. Locals there were bemused to find an unmarked grave when no one had died in the village. So they opened the grave and discovered the corpse of the now notorious killer.
A few days later, in the dead of night, they brought the body back to Caeo in the dead of night and left the coffin outside the church door with a note pinned to the lid.
“Keep your own murderer” it said. And so this time they did.
The fasting girl
According to the newspapers of 1869 twelve year old Sarah Jacobs had eaten nothing for the past two years.
The little girl had fallen ill with stomach pains which the family doctor was unable to diagnose. Although the pains disappeared it left the girl with such a severe aversion to food that she refused to eat.
Despite the fact that nothing was seen to pass her lips Sarah appeared the thrive, losing a little weight but otherwise apparently in good health. As news of her “illness” spread people came from miles around to visit her at the family farm at Llanfihangel ar Arth.
Her parents, Evan and Hannah, saw the chance to make a little money from the curious visitors and began to charge to allow them into her bedroom where the pretty little girl was put on display dressed as if she was a bride. Although they must have connived with her in the fraud Sarah was a very convincing actress, welcoming her visitors, reading to them from the bible and leading them in prayer.
Inevitably her story attracted the attention of the press as well as medical experts who were fascinated by her condition. Crowds of visitors from all over England and Wales made the journey by train to Pencader and then on foot to the farm to witness “the miracle”.
Suspecting fraud a panel of nurses were brought in from St Thomas’s hospital in London with instructions to watch over her day and night. They were allowed to offer her food if she requested it but otherwise to simply observe and do nothing.
Unwilling to admit fraud, and unable to access the food that she had clearly obtained from someone, she inevitably starved to death.
They held an autopsy at the Eagle Inn in the village and a quantity of small bones and a sticky substance were found in Sarah’s stomach. It was clear to all the observers of the post-mortem that she had managed to eat something in the days before she died.
Evan and Hannah Jacob were subsequently convicted of Sarah’s manslaughter and served short sentences of just one year and six months respectively in Swansea gaol.
The burning of the Bishop
The crowd in Carmarthen’s Market Place watched in silence as their bishop was tied to the stake and bundles of firewood placed all around him.
Dr Robert Ferrar, Bishop of St David’s, had been sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of heresy for his opposition to Queen Mary’s imposition of the Catholic religion following the death of her father, Henry VIIIth.
Determined to defy his persecutors the Bishop had told them that he would go to his death in silence showing no reaction to the pain and agony that he would be suffering.
However, when the time came to carry out the execution the organisers discovered that no-one had been given the responsibility of lighting the bonfire – a task none of them relished. A volunteer was called for and, offered the bribe of land and a farm, a local peasant agreed.
Once the bonfire was lit and everyone could see the flames catching the bishop’s clothes, scorching his face and setting fire to his beard the man burst into tears and ran away. By now the bishop was consumed by the fire and must have been suffering terribly but true to his word gave no sign whatsoever of the pain.
A local soldier took pity on the poor man and, using a pikestaff borrowed from one of the men keeping the crowd in order, he struck the bishop over the head until he was dead.
His executioner never received his reward. Two days later he died of apoplexy – what we would probably say was either a heart attack or a stroke.
The tale of Dr Ferrar’s death is recorded in Foxe’s Book of English Martyrs along with those of 600 other victims of Queen Mary’s persecution of the protestant faith.
Author: Nick Brunger
Nick leads an award-winning “horrible history” tour of Carmarthen from Easter to October every year. Private tours are available at any time.
Time to boycott Carmarthen’s Vue Cinema. They already have local cinema-goers over a barrel with their high ticket prices. This week’s Carmarthen Journal revealed that it costs twice as much for family of four to visit their venue in St Catherine’s Walk as it does to visit picture houses in the same chain in Swansea and Cardiff. It is such a shame that we don’t have very local competition to drive down prices but the Odean in Llanelli is only just down the road – and the seats there are so much more comfortable too.
Many congratulations to Steven Roberts for picking up a nomination for Best Newcomer at this year’s British Pantomime Awards. And sponsored by Carmarthen’s own Vocalzone too (well, it was invented here back in the 1920s)! We will find out at the end of April whether he takes away the title for his terrific performance as Aladdin at the Theatre Royal in Norwich. Long may the magic carpet ride continue!!
Delighted to be part of the third Llandeilo LitFest in April and helping to put the focus on horror on one of our first sessions on the Friday night. I will be chairing a discussion with some of the finest gory storytellers from our part of the world – Matthew G Rees, Carly Holmes (pictured here) and Sally Spedding. On Saturday I will once again be leading a storytelling walk around the town featuring some of the stranger stories from Llandeilo’s past – and believe me there are plenty of them! More details on the festival website llandeilolitfest.org.
Public Creepy Carmarthen Tours begin again just before Easter but private tours are available all year round – even in winter. So I hope that the women’s group joining me on Friday next week are going to come warmly wrapped – it is a wee bit chilly in town at the moment. Hopefully it will be warmer by March when I am hosting a tour for French students who are staying in the area and want to take a trip to the darker side of our past.
It’s almost time. Work on the Mansion of Mystery Escape Rooms at Picton Castle is well under way now. Construction work on the first room, Time Machine, is almost completed with just the decoration to be done now so that we can start the fun bit – adding the perplexing puzzles and cerebral challenges for our visitors. Oh – and finalising the decoration of our reception room with the various props we have been collecting – among them this fine collection of clocks found from charity shops near and far.
Halloween – my favourite time of the year! And there is no better place to celebrate the spooky season than here in Carmarthenshire, a county that is absolutely riddled with ghosts and phantoms.
Of course, I tell ghost stories every week as part on my regular Wednesday night Creepy Carmarthen Tour but this October you will also find me entertaining at Newton House (see below) the National Trust’s most haunted property. We are running “haunted house” tours on three nights this year – Friday 26th and Sunday 27th and on Wednesday 31st. There are three tours a night. The first is aimed at families with children but will be followed by two “adults-only” tours where I tell the ghost stories in all their gory details!!
Before that, on Friday 19th, I will be performing my celebrated blend of magic and storytelling called Strange Tales from the Darker Side in the atmospheric setting of the haunted dining room. For details of this and the house tours please follow these links to the Dinefwr Park website – Strange Tales and Family Ghost Tours and the After Dark ghost tours.
Against that background I thought you might like to discover . . .
Our Creepy County’s 10 Most Haunted Places
Is Carmarthenshire the most haunted county in Wales? It certainly looked that way to Edmund Jones. He was a non-conformist preacher who spent decades travelling around the country and collecting ghost stories as he went.
It was his belief that the men and women that he met, being God-fearing Christians and of a generally sober nature, would tell him the gospel truth about their own experiences.
In his account of those stories, The Appearance of Evil – Apparitions of Spirits in Wales published towards the end of the 18th century, he recorded more ghostly goings on here than anywhere else in the country.
Those phantoms have continued to feature in Carmarthenshire life to the present day. This is far from an exhaustive list but here are my top ten most haunted places in the county.
Newton House, Llandeilo
Set in the ancient grounds of Dinefwr Castle, Newton House has enough ghosts to keep a parapsychologist happy for years.
Named as one of the National Trust’s most haunted properties the building is riddled with spooks.
From its last aristocratic owner, Walter Rees, whose spirit is accompanied by the smell of pipe tobacco, to the phantom Butler who still watches over the area below stairs there are ghosts galore.
Little wonder then that TV’s Most Haunted has visited the house twice. It was here that one of their cameramen filmed a smoky white spirit floating down the corridor towards him, one of their psychic team was trapped between two doors that normally open with ease and they videoed a venerable wheelchair move on its own in an empty room.
Other reports talk of a grey lady seen in the drawing room being watched over by the spirit of a little boy dressed in blue; an old man smoking a pipe in the ancient kitchens; and a staff member hearing a voice whispering to her in an otherwise empty floor of the house.
For a time, in the nineteen seventies the building was occupied by a TV production company. The small team working in one of the rooms being used as an editing suite was disturbed by young woman dressed in white who suddenly burst into the room before walking into a cupboard in the corner.
They waited for a while for the girl to reappear but on investigation found the cupboard empty.
The lady in white is believed to by Lady Eleanor Rees who was chased through the building by her jilted fiancé before being strangled to death with her own hair ribbons in the top floor nursery.
Do contact the house and ask when I will next be running one of the ghost tours there.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales
If you visit the Botanic Garden of Wales you will find it a wonderfully warm and welcoming place. So it is hard to imagine that within its boundaries in contains a host of supernatural spirits.
First among them is the Grey Lady whose restless spirit can be seen in the area between Principality House, once the service wing of the magnificent Middleton Hall which once dominated the site, and the chain of lakes which run through the parkland.
Her story in unbearably sad. She was the daughter of the Hall’s wealthy owner, Edward Adams, who had business interests in India. She married a soldier and travelled with him to the sub-continent to take up a military post there.
She gave birth to a son but, as in so many cases in that hot and dangerous climate, the child died while just a few months old. In her desperate grief she arranged for the baby’s body to be embalmed and sent home to Wales to be buried in the graveyard at St David’s Church in nearby Llanarthne.
However, when the body arrived Edwards Adams opened the sealed casket to look upon the child – and discovered that the corpse was black. Whether he believed that his daughter had given birth to a child of mixed-race – or was horrified by some error in the embalming process that left the body blackened – we will never know. In his anguish he took the baby’s tiny corpse and threw it into the deepest and darkest part of the lake.
Today they say that the baby’s mother can still be seen roaming the estate searching for her baby so that he may be buried in consecrated ground as she intended.
There are many other ghosts that haunt the estate. Workers building the Great Glasshouse were disturbed by the phantom of a man dressed in Victorian style who watched them from a distance while a cleaner in one of the conference rooms at the gardens videoed a ghost on her mobile phone only to delete the file because she was terrified by what she had seen. For more of these and other tales do contact the gardens and ask them when I next plan a ghost walk.
The Emlyn Arms at Llanarthne
The ghostly goings on at this haunted hostelry made newspaper headlines early in the year 1910.
Landlady Harriet Meredith and her adopted daughter Mary were locking up after closing hours when they were disturbed by having strange objects flung with some force against the back door of the inn.
Thinking local lads were having a bit of fun Harriet locked and barred the door only to find that items inside the building were now seen flying through the air.
Still suspecting this was nothing more than a prank played by the village boys while her husband was away overnight the two women began searching their living quarters to find the culprits.
At this point the disturbances continued with renewed energy. Stones and items of clothing came flying down the stairs followed by what sounded like the screams of a pig being slaughtered in one of the bedrooms.
Thoroughly frightened they fled from the inn and took refuge with a neighbour. By now a small crowd of locals had gathered outside the pub and, while someone went to try and find the village policeman, others plucked up courage to enter the building where they too were bombarded by objects of every kind.
PC Jenkins arrived on the scene and took charge, throwing a cordon of local men around the pub. Drawing his baton he searched the place from cellar to attic while hot embers from the fire flew about followed by empty bottles and glasses, saucepan lids, spoons and old teapot.
The frenzied activity finally petered out at about three o’clock the following afternoon but not before dozens of local people had witnessed or actually been the target of the flying objects.
These days a determined ghost hunter would diagnose classic poltergeist activity. However, PC Jenkins took a no-nonsense approach to the whole affair. “There’s some trickster that was behind it all,” he told reporters, “though I’m damned if I know who it was or how he did it.”
Castle House in Carmarthen
Now the town’s Tourist Information Centre, Castle House was built as a police station for the county constabulary. Its grim cells housed many of the town’s most dangerous criminals as well as its share of petty thieves and drunks.
The darkest of the two cells is the epicentre of most of the strange events experienced by visitors. Ghost hunters who have hired the building for overnight vigils report the sound of girls crying as well as the unmistakable noise of a grown man sobbing in anguish.
Tourists taking the regular Creepy Carmarthen Tours, which run between Easter and mid-October, have experienced more than their fair share of strange experiences.
While some women have reported feeling hands stroking their face or hair one unfortunate lady claims to have felt icy hands close around her throat before trying to lift her off the ground leaving her choking and distressed.
Male visitors have a slightly different experience with descriptions of a heavy boot or shoe making firm contact with their shins.
While taking one tour I was standing in the corridor outside the cells talking to a party of visitors when I felt two sharp tugs on the back of my arm. Expecting to see someone standing behind me I turned around to find that there was no-one there.
The Spirit of the Drover
The pretty market town of Llandovery has a very ancient history. It was the site of a Roman marching camp two thousand years ago and the place where Welsh martyr Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan was tortured to death on the orders of the English king.
It is also linked to the Drovers – a hardy breed of men who drove herds of cattle from the rich pastures of west Wales to the livestock markets in London.
They travelled together for their own safety and security. Rustlers were a hazard on the long road to the capital while they were prey to other bandits on their return because of the money they carried.
One of their number saw a business opportunity and founded the Bank of the Black Ox, based in the town, enabling the men to be given promissory notes which they could exchange for cash on their return to Llandovery.
A local told me that, returning from the pub one night on a light summer’s evening, he followed the unmistakable figure of a drover taking the back road down Garden Lane. This ancient service road backs on to the buildings and businesses in the Market Place and Broad Street.
Thinking it might be someone is fancy dress he watched as the man suddenly turned into one of the yards lining the road. However, when he reached the yard a few seconds later he found the man had disappeared.
Not wanting to risk the ridicule of his friends my informant kept the strange sighting to himself. That was until, some months later, he had exactly the same experience when he once again saw the drover in the same location only for him to disappear once more.
St Peter’s Church
Carmarthen’s parish church has a fascinating history dating back to the earliest Christina era when the town was known by its Roman name of “Moridunum”, the fortress by the sea.
It is famous for being the last resting place of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, the local landowner and warrior who legend has it was the man who killed King Richard III on the battlefield at Bosworth.
His reward for helping Edward Tudor capture the English throne was to be granted South Wales as his own fiefdom and by all accounts he was a wise and noble gentlemen who enjoyed widespread popularity.
On his death he was buried in the Priory in Carmarthen. Shortly afterwards this was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII but Rhys’s tomb was spared the destruction and moved to St Peter’s where it remains to this day.
In the late 18th century during general restoration work to the church his impressive stone grave was repaired and during the process the bones of the great soldier were examined.
It was then that they discovered that the bones that made up Rhys’s right arm were missing. When they were taken from the grave no-one knows but it is possible that they may have been a bizarre souvenir or even a holy relic taken when the tomb was moved.
It is Rhys’s ghost that is believed to haunt St Peter’s church today. But if you explore the building after dark and find yourself face-to-face with the phantom there is no need to be frightened. I am told his ghost is completely ‘armless.
Every tale of haunting should include a headless ghost and Carmarthenshire’s must be one of the most glamorous.
Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was the wife of Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth. Said to be strikingly beautiful she was also undoubtedly brave, joining her husband in the continuing struggle between the local nobility and the Norman conquerors who were seeking to extend their territory into Wales.
Not content to stay at home away from the action she shared the hardships of the army, hiding out in the countryside, mountains and forests and making lightening raids on the invaders.
While her husband was away from home seeking to make alliances with other Welsh leaders the Normans seized the opportunity to strike and attack Kidwelly Castle. Perhaps they thought that the beautiful princess would be a pushover but Gwenllian and her small army put up a frantic defence despite being heavily outnumbered.
In a final desperate bid for victory she led her soldiers from the front confronting her enemy on the meadows outside the castle walls. Fighting alongside her sons she fought long and hard but to no avail. Her son Morgan was killed fighting beside her and she and her other son Maelgwyn were captured.
It had been a hard campaign and the Normans were in no mood to be merciful. First her surviving son was executed and then she too faced the executioner’s axe, losing her head in the castle courtyard.
It is Gwenllian’s restless spirit that is said to haunt the castle to this day, endlessly searching the grounds for her missing skull.
This popular museum and café in the centre of modern Llanelli is a triumphant example of the skills of the heritage and conservation movement. The Georgian mansion was created by Sir Thomas Stepney but by the end of the twentieth century it was a shadow of its former self and faced demolition.
After being featured on the 2003 TV Restoration series it won funding to restore it to its former grandeur and now visitors can explore the building with the help of its expert guides.
One of the areas you can now visit are the attic rooms once occupied by the servants. Its here that people believe you could encounter the ghost of a housemaid called Mira Turner. Some say she committed suicide – but others believe she was murdered to keep a dark secret hidden.
Mira’s story is simple and all too familiar from a time when moral standards were very different from today – a servant girl who was believed to have killed herself by taking poison when her love affair with the Butler, a married man, became common knowledge.
The inquest decided Mira had committed suicide but not everyone was convinced. She appeared to have made a good recovery from her suicide attempt – and as a watch had been kept she could not have taken poison again. Could someone in the household have slipped more laudanum in her food?
As a suicide there is no gravestone today to show us where she was buried. All we know is that her young body lies somewhere in the graveyard of the parish church next door. However staff at Llanelly House do believe that her spirit still inhabits the attic rooms and a number of visitors there have fainted, apparently effected by Mira’s ghostly presence.
The Carmarthenshire Countryside
In Edmund Jones’s time he found most reports of ghosts came from the countryside, seen on farms and in villages, on country roads and in the fields and woods.
According to one Joshua Coslet, who lived on the banks of the river Towy, the lands to the south and east of the river were where you were most likely to come across the “cyhyraeth”. This he described as “a voice that resembles the groaning of sick persons who are about to die.”
“Heard first at a distance and then coming nearer it begins strong and louder than a sick man can make, then lower but no less doleful, then soft like the groaning of a sick man who is almost spent and dying.”
Coslet claimed that the sound could be heard before the death of everyone born in that part of the county no matter where in the world they should be when they died.
Other witnesses also told Edmund Jones of “corpse candles” seen processing along country roads and village streets as a kind of ghostly premonition of a death in the community. These were sometimes accompanied by the sight of the funeral itself with those who experienced them able to recognise the mourners and the face of the deceased carried in an open coffin.
The ruined mansion at Aberglasney stands as the centrepiece to this beautiful garden which attracts visitors to Carmarthenshire from all over the world. These peaceful surroundings are deservedly popular but those ancient walls once witnessed a terrible tragedy.
Four maids, sleeping in their attic bedrooms, died in their sleep as victims of a terrible accident.
The servants’ quarters had been redecorated and a stove had been lit in their room to assist in the drying process. We now know of the dangerous fumes given off by fire in unventilated areas but carbon monoxide poisoning was an unknown cause of death in those distant times.
Unaware of the peril they faced they had drifted off to die peacefully in their sleep.
According to legend the household became aware of the tragedy when night-watchman was doing his rounds of the building. He became aware of the afore-mentioned “corpse candles” apparently floating in the air at the foot of the staircase.
He followed the strange lights up to the attic where he discovered the womens’ bodies tucked up in bed.
Want to hear more of our local ghost stories? I often lead storytelling walks at Newton House and the National Botanic Garden of Wales as well as the regular Creepy Carmarthen Tour. For more details visit http://www.thespookymagiccompany.co.uk.