St David’s Day

As today is Saint David’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to put up a post with a Welsh theme.

There are some Warringtonians of note with Welsh connections, and of course there have been Welsh Chapels in the town. But the item I have chosen to look at today is “Seithinyn” a poem written in 1895 by Robert Anderton Naylor, Timber Merchant and one time resident of Cuerden Hall in Thelwall.

Naylor later stood as the Conservative candidate against Lloyd George at Carnarvon in the 1906 election, but that is a story for another day.

Naylor’s poem takes as its inspiration the Welsh legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod. Gwaelod was a land said to have existed where Cardigan Bay now is. The story goes that the district was below sea level, but that the sea was kept at bay by a large wall, the gates of which were swung shut at high tide.

I haven’t the time or space here to do justice to the tale itself, but the basic gist of it is that the man responsible for maintaining the walls and insuring that the gates were closed on time was named Seithenyn. One day the ruler of the land, King Gwyddno Garanhir, held a vast feast at which the people of Gwaelod became so drunk that they fell into insensibility.

Meanwhile, a terrible storm was brewing outside the walls. Here different versions of the story vary, with some suggesting that the gates were left open to the storm tide, or that a hole was broken in the walls. In either case warning bells were rung by the one faithful watchman who had stayed by his post during the feast. But no assistance came as Seithenyn and the citizens of Gwaelod were too drunk to be woken.

Gwaelod was lost to the sea, and all of its citizens were drowned except for the faithful watchman and the King’s daughter who escaped to high land and watched the floods claim Gwaelod.

Local legend has it that on quiet days you can hear the warning bell ringing out across Cardigan Bay.

In the Triads of the Island of Britain, an early collection of Welsh folklore, Seithenyn is named as one of the Three Immortal Drunkards of the Isle of Britain.

It is perhaps not surprising that the story Naylor chose to put to poetry warns of the perils of drinking. He was a well-known teetotaller and an important member of the temperance movement both in Warrington and Nationally. Of course it may be coincidence that he was so taken with this particular fable, but I think perhaps the moral lesson here was too good to miss.

A copy of Naylor’s poem is held in the archives and can be consulted in the Search room, its reference number is Wp2050.

This article was originally posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2018.