Thursday, 28 February 2013

New History Group for Hay

This has grown out of the Cheesemarket Research Group, which is broadening its interests. We met in the upper room of the Three Tuns, one of the most historic buildings in town (and I was happy to see I'm not the only person who regularly points out Lucy's bathroom - now where a cosy table for two is situated - to new visitors!). More than 20 people turned up - the place was packed out.

There was a presentation about the information that has been gathered about the Cheesemarket so far - I think my favourite bit was the story about the Town Band, who asked permission to practice there. They were given permission in the April - and in the May there were letters complaining about the noise, so they were thrown out again!
The chap whose done a lot of the research on the Cheesemarket lives in one of the new houses where Underhill's Garage used to be, and he's also been researching the tanneries and mills that were there, mapping photos onto a 3D program to make a model of what the buildings looked like in the 1930s. Yet he still says he doesn't know whether the mill wheel was overshot, midshot or undershot.

Brecon Museum is in the process of being refurbished (almost rebuilt!) and as part of this they are re-designing the exhibits for the different towns and villages of Breconshire. As Hay doesn't have a working History Group, they approached the Cheesemarket Research group, and one of the ladies has been going along to meetings. One of the ideas was to base the exhibits around a notable inhabitant of the town or village, and after some thought, they chose William de Braose for Hay.
"Which one? was called out from somewhere in the room.
"The nasty one!" she replied.
"There were three or four (and they all came to a bad end!). I think one was beheaded and one was hanged...."
"What about Matilda?" I asked - there was only one Matilda, after all, and it's always good to acknowledge the women in history. There's also the more recent link with Barbara Erskine's book Lady of Hay.
When the Museum people looked at the names that had been chosen, they found something unexpected - almost all of them had been incomers to the area. William de Braose, of course, was a Norman. It made them think that the theme of the group of exhibits should be immigration to the area. It's easy to assume that this part of the world has been an unchanging rural backwater, full of sheep and farmers, but the history of the area is actually a lot more dynamic than that.
Another suggestion for an interesting person from Hay was the head of the Howe family - a watchmaker from London who came to Hay to own a fulling mill, and was invited to move to America to start a flannel factory there in the 18th century.

So the next step is to start holding monthly meetings, and to work towards a couple of events. The next meeting will be on 27th March - but they weren't sure of the venue (possibly somewhere bigger than the room at the Three Tuns).
In September, there's going to be a Powys wide history weekend - or week if a town is feeling particularly enthusiastic - and there will be open historic houses and guided walks and so forth. There's quite a bit of scope for that sort of thing in Hay, and it would be good to be part of it.
There was also the suggestion of having a History Day, where local people would be asked to bring along their old photos and documents to be scanned, and the group could show what they've been doing for the Cheesemarket and any other research.
Rodney Mace is also on the Hay Together committee, and said that it might be possible to use a room at the Castle - Hay Together are talking to Elizabeth Haycox about the possibility of having a base there which would be a point of contact for all the groups in Hay, so everyone would be able to find out what was going on, and do things like borrow equipment instead of each group in isolation trying to raise money for their own projector or whatever it might be.

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