Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Touring South Wales

Next Selection Previous Selection

I lectured in every town of note in Devonshire and Cornwall, and in several of the smaller towns and villages. From Bristol I went by steamer down the beautiful River Avon, and crossed over to Cardiff on one of the hottest days I ever experienced, and on the following morning took the train to Merthyr Tydvil, where I passed the evening with some of the best and most warm-hearted men I had ever met, and addressed a large meeting in the Market Place.

I took coach on the following day to Builth, a small village 40 miles distant. It was a beautiful drive all the way. I was on the outside of the vehicle. No one with any taste for natural beauty could have wished to be anywhere else; for a gentle breeze wafted to us the scent of the new made hay, and of the woodbine flowers, which were profuse among the hedges, and for which I always had what some prosaic people might call a natural weakness. I remember there was an old, hard-featured farmer with us on the coach, and while I was dilating with heart-felt enthusiasm on the beauties of the scenery he said, ' I see no beauty in it; give me a piece of good flat land.' I saw that the old man looked mainly to No. 1; but all the way as we passed, with the beautiful River Wye on our right, and high hills studded with trees on our left, I felt myself almost in fairy land. After leaving the coach I walked 13 miles to the little town of Rhayder. It was a delightful road, each side being studded with trees; covered with almost as fine foliage as any I ever saw. After staying for the night at a small but comfortable inn, I walked over a wild but interesting tract of road a distance of 18 miles to the ever interesting little town of Llanidloes where I met with a number of the most cordial men with whom I came across in my career. Old John Lewis stands out prominently among the number, as does his kindly wife, who, however, could not speak a word except in Welsh, of which I was totally ignorant, which I very much regretted. But there was one advantage: the dear old woman could very well understand me, as I could see whenever I spoke, as I found in many Welsh women with whom I met who could not speak English. I lectured to a crowded audience in the town hall for a couple of hours. There was great enthusiasm, and at the conclusion I was requested to lecture again, and there must be no denial. I pointed out what I regarded as the utter impossibility of doing so, as I had to speak at Newtown on the following night, and on the succeeding day should have 30 miles to walk, so as to get a night's rest, in order to take the coach from Builth to Merthyr Tydvil, on the following day. To enthusiastic men few things are impossible, and my pleading was in vain. They would have another lecture after I had been to Newtown. I asked them how it was to be done. 'Well.' replied one gentleman, 'if I engage to drive you from here to Builth (30 miles) after you have finished your lecture so as to catch the coach at six o'clock, will you come?' 'Willingly,' I replied; 'but how can you do it?' 'I will do it,' he answered. 'Agreed, then; I will forego my night's rest.' I spoke again to an equally crowded and enthusiastic audience.

After making a cordial acquaintance between a beefsteak and my stomach, four of us set off at half-past twelve in a phaeton for Builth. To me it was very beautiful. Every star was shining, and the gentle bleating of the sheep seemed delicious music. Day soon broke. We reached a distance of 24 miles, and it was half-past four. I said to my friends as we approached a lone inn, 'Your horse is getting tired. I have an hour and a half to catch the coach. It is a fine morning, and I can walk it. As you have the same distance to go back, I will not trouble you to go further.' They were willing to proceed, if I thought it necessary; but assuring them that it was not, I went on my journey, and arrived in time, if it were true that the coach did not start till six. But my feelings may be judged when, on arriving, I found that I had been misinformed, and that the coach had been gone three-quarters of an hour, and that a distance of forty miles was before me, and no other mode of conveyance but my own natural ones. I stood for a minute, but reflection being of no avail, I started off for Merthyr. After walking a mile or two, I sat down on a grassy bank by the road side, and fell asleep under the shade of a tree, where I was protected from the rays of the morning sun. But I soon awoke, and pursuing my journey, came to a farmhouse where I was provided with a copious draught of real country milk; onwards I went till I reached a public house, where I was regaled with a delicious breakfast of bread, fried ham, eggs, and strong tea, to which I did ample justice. Fortified by this good meal, I walked on to Brecon, a town then or afterwards resided in by my subsequent friend, W.A. Walton, [sic] who some years ago stood as the Democratic candidate for Stoke-upon-Trent, and who, though polling a large number of votes, was like most Democrats, defeated. I took tea at Brecon, but oh! what tea, after the excellent beverage of the morning!

I was then but 14 miles from Merthyr. I walked into that town by daylight, after, as I have stated, speaking two hours on the previous night, travelling by conveyance 24 miles, and walking 46 miles without a minute in bed. I did not sleep well that night. I was rather feverish after all my fatigue: but I addressed a public meeting in the Market Place on the following morning, and again at an in-door meeting in the evening. I also spoke at a public meeting at the little town of Neath on the following morning, and in the evening lectured in a large, well filled room at Merthyr for an hour and a half; and I confess that by this time I craved a little rest.

I may say that throughout the time I have mentioned I totally abstained from alcoholic drinks of every kind. Indeed, I never could have accomplished the arduous work, physical and mental, of that period, had I not done so. I went from Merthyr to Swansea on the following day and, after passing the evening with some warm and cordial friends, went by steamer at half-past four on the following morning to Ilfracombe. It was a bright, sunny morning, and the ripple of the waves as I crossed was most cheering. When we arrived opposite Ilfracombe, I was struck with the beauty of the rocks on each side of the harbour. I cannot describe them, but they seemed to me to present a combination of all the beauties of that beautiful coast. I spent three days in that quiet little town. I mounted the hills and heard the songs of the boatmen as they plied upon the water, and if ever felt myself bewitched it was during that time.

I had a very humble lodging, sixpence a night, and allowed to get all I required. My expenses were light, and I must say for the working classes of Ilfracombe I could not have been treated better had I been one of the most wealthy. I spent three days there, reading books, and then wandering out into the country; but my chief delight was on the seashore.

I had to travel by a sort of omnibus—a very small one—from Ilfracombe, and also by waggon in the night, where I sang songs, to the delight of my fellow travellers. About six o'clock in the morning I arrived at the pleasant little town of Collumpton, and had to arouse my warm-hearted friend, Mr. Poole, from his peaceful slumbers, and in due time went on to Exeter.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, January 5 1884

Next Selection Previous Selection