Black chair Eisteddfod Birkenhead

Flag of Wales

The Eisteddfod can be traced back to Cardigan Castle in 1176, when the House of Dinefwr, which was a royal house of Wales, supported the eisteddfod.

The House of Dinefwr can be traced back to King of Gwynedd in 844. The above is the flag of Dinefwr.

The Eisteddfod had it ups and down over the centuries until the 1789 meeting which was held in Bala under new strict rules. 
Thanks to the Napoleonic wars the Eisteddfods were halted and reactivated after the Battle of Waterloo.  

Between 1819 and 1834 the Eisteddfod grew in popularity and in Denbigh where it was held in 1828 the Duke of Sussex (King George IV’s brother) attended.
At the Beaumaris Eisteddfod in 1832 Princess Victoria and her mother visited the festival.  

It wasn’t always poems and song because in 1858 the English press were ‘outraged’ and one writer in The Times wrote that it was “simply foolish interference with the natural progress of civilization and prosperity – it is a monstrous folly to encourage the Welsh in a loving fondness for their old language.”

Consider that comment appearing in a newspaper in today’s Cancel Culture world.

From the beginning the Eisteddfod had always been held in a Welsh town or city, but in 1866 it was held in Chester and twelve years later in 1878 the Eisteddfod was held in another English town, Birkenhead. The gorsedd (Welsh for Throne) was held at Birkenhead Park on Monday the 23rd of September 1878.

Above is the symbol of the Gorsedd (in Cornwall it is spelt Gorsedh)

On the following day, Tuesday the Eisteddfod began in earnest in a large wooden pavilion that had been erected close to Woodside Ferry. Inside the pavilion was a platform for the orchestra which could seat between 300- 400 people, above which was the Royal Coat of Arms surmounted by the Prince of Wales feathers. 

Something like the above 

In consideration of the locals using the Woodside area for the ferries and the new railway station that had been opened six months earlier in March 1878, the authorities re-routed all excursion trains for the festival to the older station of Monks Ferry. The distance from Monks Ferry to the pavilion was about a kilometre (or half a mile).            

Woodside Station – which was closed in 1967 

Monks Ferry Station, which was opened in 1840 and was closed as a passenger station when the Woodside Station opened in 1878. Monks Ferry remained only as a goods station and was finally closed in 1961.  

Trains from all over the British Isles carried Eisteddfod visitors to Chester to meet with excursion trains from Chester to Monks Ferry station in Birkenhead. On the second day of the Eisteddfod (Tuesday) there were seven special trains from Chester to Birkenhead with an estimated 3,400 passengers keen to visit the Eisteddfod. 

On each day of the festival the Gorsedd would meet at 9.00 am in Birkenhead Park and at 11.00 am the musical competition would begin at the pavilion at Woodside where between 6,000 to 7,000 people were packed into the pavilion and thousands of others were outside.
At that time the honoured guests were MPs, the Mayor of Birkenhead David Laird and members of the Eisteddfod committee.

It would be thirty-three years before the Eisteddfod committee would choose Birkenhead again to host the annual event and this time the Prime Minister would attend and speak.

Lloyd George in Birkenhead

1863-1945
Lloyd George was Prime Minister from 1916-1922

David Lloyd George born in Manchester of Welsh parents and his first language was Welsh. 

As Prime Minister, Lloyd George attended the Eisteddfod in Birkenhead in 1917.

The Eisteddfod was held in Birkenhead Park -the above shows the park as it is today, but the basic layout is as it was in 1847. It is the first publicly funded civic park in the world.

The Eisteddfod is a national stage to celebrate music, poetry, dance and the visual arts, which takes into account friendly competition between artists.  It is a celebration of the Welsh culture via these poets, composers, artists etc who compete.

The winning poet is award the bardic chair, which the poet keeps. 

 Three adjudicators in the chair competition agreed that a poem called Yr Arwr (‘The Hero’) was the best poem that had been submitted in the 1917 competition.
On the 6th September 1917 the poet was called upon to come and accept the chair by sitting in it – three time they called for the poet and at the third call the Archdruid let it be known that the poet, Ellis Humphrey Evans, had been killed in action, just over five weeks earlier.

Ellis Humphrey Evans had been on two weeks leave after basic training in Liverpool, and it was during this time that he wrote the poem Yr Arwr (The Hero) 
When the leave was over he left for overseas in such a hurry that he forgot the poem and re-wrote it in Flanders and signed it Fleur-de-lis, before posting it at the end of June to the Eisteddfod adjudicators.   
He was fatally wounded on the 31st July 1917 at the third battle of Ypres (which later became known as the Battle of Passchendaele).
The poet wrote under the pen name of Hedd Wyn (Blessed Peace ), which he was given by by the bard Bryfdir in 1910. 

The Bardic Chair in Birkenhead was covered with a black sheet and the 1917 Eisteddfod became know as the ‘The Eisteddfod of the Black Chair’.

Ellis Humphrey Evans
  January 1887 – July 1917

There is a memorial to “Hedd Wyn” and the Eisteddfod of 1917 in Birkenhead Park. 

I have a personal link with the National Eisteddfod because my mother was a member of the Birkenhead Welsh Choral Society, and she sang at one of the eisteddfods, but I am not sure which one.

The badge off my mother’s ‘uniform’ for the competition.

This badge was used to pin the cloth badge to her blouse.

The shield and certificates can be seen, but I am unable to read them even after ‘blowing up’ the picture. When I was younger, I am sure I was shown her medal or some commemorative item, but for the life of me I cannot find it, which isn’t surprising after moving to Australia!

My mother is front row, fourth from the left – the badge can be seen on her blouse.

Louie Harris as she was then, and later becoming Louie Woodland (in 1939).

She was born in Caernarvon in 1909 and moved to England when she was twelve. She didn’t speak English until she arrived in England.
In 1925 she would have been sixteen and the competition at that time was held in Pwllheli.
I mention this because of the cost of getting to Pwllheli from Birkenhead, very few people had cars, and there were three older sisters in the family, so money was tight. 
The distance from Birkenhead to Pwllheli is about 100 miles, which in 1925, would have taken about four hours and accommodation would have been required for the choir.

I think the above panoramic photograph was taken at the 1929 Eisteddfod which was held in Sefton Park Liverpool.
It is a ferry ride across the River Mersey from Birkenhead, and a short four-mile bus ride to Sefton Park. The closeness of Sefton Park in Liverpool would allow the contestants from Birkenhead to go home each evening. At that time my mother would have been twenty years old.

As a foot note – when I was about twelve or thirteen, I was in the school choir at Prenton Secondary School in Birkenhead – perhaps my voice at that time was thanks to Mum, and we used to sing in concerts and the occasional international competition.
One year my choir was asked to host a German choir, and my parents agreed to host a German boy, of similar age to me, to stay at our home for about a week.
It was an interesting week because he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak German, and the only other language that we could use was Welsh, which was of little help.

I can remember the German boy now, Andreus was his Christian name, we wrote to each other as pen pals, but at that age writing letters was a pain, and it eventually stopped.
I wonder how his life panned out.

 

Author: 1944april

Traveled a great deal - about 80 countries - first foreign country I suppose was Wales, which was only 80 miles away from where I was born. Visited each Continent, except Antarctica, and I doubt that it is on my bucket list - too cold. I love Asian food, Australian wine & British beer & trying to entertain by writing.

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