Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus….

March the 1st is the National Day of Wales – Saint David’s Day – and has been celebrated since the 12th Century….

Although not a public holiday many events take place across Wales; festivals and parades, usually with a dragon theme – the biggest being the National St. David’s Parade in Cardiff…. Many people attend special church services and recitals of Welsh literature (Eisteddfod)…. National costume is often worn, especially by school children….and traditional songs are sung. Many heritage sites offer free admission on this day….

A woman in “Welsh national” dress with a spinning wheel LIGC ~ NLW via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/llgc/5552906473/

Leeks and daffodils are to be seen everywhere being the National symbols, along with the yellow and black flag of St. David….

St. David’s Flag Bruce Stokes via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bruciestokes/14344677406/

The traditional meal of the feast day is Cawl, a soup made with meat, root vegetables and of course, leeks…. Other foods enjoyed are Bara Brith (Welsh fruit bread), Tiesen Bach (Welsh cakes) and Welsh Rarebit….


So…. Who was David, Patron Saint of Wales? It’s hard to know for sure, so many stories and theories have emerged over the years…. In Medieval times it was believed he was the nephew of King Arthur; it does appear he may have been born to Royal parentage….

It is said David was born on a cliff top one night during a raging storm – some time around 500 AD in Pembrokeshire, on the South West coast of Wales. Some say he was the son of Sandde – Prince of Powys – and ‘Non’ – the daughter of a Chieftain…. Others say his parents were Sanctus, King of Ceredigion and a nun (Nonnita). St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland, is reputed to have been born in the same region some years before and he is said to have had a ‘vision’ of the birth of David…. At the site of David’s birth there stands an 18th Century chapel, dedicated to Non….also the ruins of a tiny ancient chapel and a holy well….

St. Nons Bay dachalan via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/54945394@N00/6201523513/

The young David was brought up by his mother at Llanon, a village in Ceredigion…. He was then possibly educated at Hen Fynwy – a monastery – and tutored by St. Paulinus. It seems he was always destined to be a priest….

David became a missionary – spreading the Christian word throughout the British Isles – he even made a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made a Bishop…. During his life he is supposed to have performed several miracles: he restored the sight to his tutor, St. Paulinus….he brought a child back to life with his tears…. But perhaps his most famous miracle is from the time he was preaching to a crowd out in the open air – some cried out from the back that they were unable to hear him…. Suddenly a white dove landed on his shoulder and the ground beneath his feet rose to form a small hill….and then everybody could hear what he had to say…. The white dove became the emblem of St. David; he is often depicted in pictures and stained glass windows with one on his shoulder….

St. David Lawrence OP via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/3319037420/

David was made Archbishop of Wales in 550 and founded 12 monasteries altogether, including Glastonbury – but the one he chose to make his base was the one close to his birth place, which he founded around 560 and is now the location of St. David’s Cathedral and St. David’s Bishops Palace – having been built by the Normans on the site of the original monastery…. In fact there is a stone which sits within an altar in the Cathedral which is believed to have been carried back by David himself on his return journey from his Pilgrimage to Jerusalem….

St. David’s Cathedral in St. David’s John D. Fielding via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/john_fielding/10335587213/

David’s monastery and church was built at Rose Vale (Glyn Rhosyn) on the banks of the River Alun. A settlement grew around the monastery and became known as David’s House – (Tyddewi)…. Life was tough in a monastery and David ran a particularly strict Order…. All were expected to work hard; ploughing the land by hand without the use of animals, to provide food with which to feed themselves and the travellers they gave shelter to…. They undertook many crafts, including beekeeping….but one of their main tasks was to look after the poor and needy by clothing and feeding them…. Their diet was vegetarian – David himself reputedly ate just bread and herbs and he was known as Dewi Ddyfrwr (the Water Drinker) because this was all he ever drank…. He was also very harsh on himself and was not beyond self-imposing penances such as standing up to his neck in freezing cold water – reciting the Scriptures….

David died on the 1st March 589 AD, rumoured to having been over 100 years old…. He was buried in a shrine in the 6th Century cathedral he had founded…. During the 11th Century the Vikings plundered the site repeatedly, murdering two Bishops in the process – in 1087 it was finally burned to the ground….


After his death David’s influence spread throughout Great Britain, eventually crossing the channel to Brittany, France…. In 1120 Pope Callistus II made him a Saint – (St. David is the only Welsh Saint to be canonised by the Catholic Church) – it was the Pope who declared two Pilgrimages to the shrine of St. David were worth one to Rome, three Pilgrimages would equate to one to Jerusalem….

St. David’s (as the settlement that had grown from David’s House became known) was given city status because of its cathedral in the 16th Century – but this status was lost in 1888…. In 1994, at the request of Queen Elizabeth II, it was granted the status again, making it Britain’s smallest city…. In 2011 it had a population of just 1,841 – compared to the capital Cardiff with 358,000…. In 1996 bones were found in St. Davids Cathedral which are said to be those of St. David…. Some 50 churches in South Wales are named for him…. The affectionate (if somewhat cheeky) nickname we often give to somebody of Welsh descent – ‘Taffy’ – originates to the 17th Century and comes from the Welsh for David – ‘Dafydd’….

But what of the emblems for Wales – the leek and the daffodil? The leek is the original emblem; there are various stories to how this came to be…. One being that David advised Welsh troops to wear a leek in their hats whilst in battle with the Saxons, so they could be distinguished from the enemy…. This is doubtful, as apart from this story not being recorded before the 17th Century, David lived a peaceful life and was unlikely to have been involved with warfare….

Photo via Pixabay

Another more plausible theory comes from 1346, when the Prince of Wales, ‘Edward the Black Prince’, defeated the French at the Battle of Crécy. The long and bloody battle was fought in a field of leeks….to remember the bravery and loyalty of the Welsh archers, people began to wear leeks in their hats every St. David’s Day. This is the legend reflected in Shakespeare’s play Henry V….Act V Scene I : Fluellen insists Pistol eats a leek after insulting the vegetable on St. David’s Day…. “If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek”….

The Welsh for leek is ‘cenhinen’, whereas the Welsh for daffodil is ‘cenhinen pedr’ – so it is possible over the years the two have become confused…. The wearing of a daffodil is a fairly recent custom….probably really coming about in 1911 after being encouraged by David George Lloyd at the investiture of the Prince of Wales…. You’ve got to admit a daffodil does smell sweeter than a leek when you are wearing it….

Photo via Pixabay

In the words of Dewi Sant (Saint David)…. “Gwnewch y pethau bychain mean bywyd” ~ “do the little things in life”….


The Man they could not hang….

John Henry George Lee, also known as John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee or simply as ‘the man they could not hang’ – was born on the 14th of August 1864, in the Devonshire village of Abbotskerswell – and upon leaving school went to work for Miss Emma Keyes, at her home ‘The Glen’, in Babbacombe, a seaside hamlet near to Torquay. Shortly after he joined the Royal Navy – but was discharged for an injury he sustained some three years later….he returned to Torquay and took up a position as footman for a Colonel Brownlow. However, in 1883 Lee was convicted of stealing £20 worth of silverware from his employer and spent 6 months in Exeter Prison doing hard labour….


On his release 19-year-old Lee was fortunate enough to be given work again by his original employer, Emma Keyse; the elderly spinster obviously thought he deserved a second chance and already had his half-sister Elizabeth Harris in her employment, working as a cook. Miss Keyse was a wealthy, respected woman – who had been Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria (who had actually spent a night at the Babbacombe house). It seems Miss Keyse was not a lady to tolerate slovenliness – it was common knowledge she’d had reason to reprimand Lee as she was dissatisfied with his work and as a result had reduced his wages….not something that would have particularly pleased him….

It was during the early hours of the 15th of November 1884 that a female servant found Emma Keyse on the floor of the Pantry; she had been severely beaten and her throat had been cut. In an attempt to dispose of the evidence the perpetrator had saturated the body with oil and it was surrounded by burning paper – presumably with the intention of burning the house down….

‘Torquay, Babbacombe Bay, from the Inn’ National Science and Media Museum via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://flickr.com/photos/nationalmediamuseum/8448461592/

Immediately the finger of accusation was pointed at Lee and he was promptly arrested. He had supposedly been the only man in the house at the time, he had a criminal record and he had a motive – having had his wages cut…. He also had an unexplained wound on his arm – claiming this had happened when he broke a window to let out smoke from the fire….and it was his knife that had been used to cut the victim’s throat…. All pretty damning evidence – even if circumstantial….

Lee was meant to be represented in Court by a Reginald Gwynne Templar – a young solicitor acquaintance of Emma Keyse. This in itself is a little odd – what also seems rather strange is the eagerness Templar had to take on the case…. However, two days before Lee’s trial was due to begin Templar was taken ill, an illness he never recovered from. Templar died in December 1886 from Paralysis of the Insane – a polite way of saying Syphilis. Speculation is that he was the lover of Elizabeth Harris (Lee’s half-sister); Elizabeth was pregnant at the time, the father of her child ‘unknown’…. Lee claimed Templar was also present in the house on the night of the murder….

Templar’s younger brother Charles, Liberal MP for St. Ives, took over the role of representation in Court for Lee – despite it being only circumstantial evidence it took the jury just 40 minutes to return a ‘guilty’ verdict….Lee was sentenced to hang…. After sentence was passed Lee was questioned as to his calmness, to which he replied….

“The reason I am so calm is that I trust in the Lord and he knows I am innocent”….

Lee’s execution date was set for February 23rd 1885 at Exeter Prison. It was to be the first time the scaffold was to be used in this location – it had been moved from an old prison hospital building that was due to be demolished and had been re-erected…. After 1868 hangings were no longer public but took place inside prisons. The ‘long-drop’ method was used at the time, taking into consideration the person’s height, weight and the muscular build of the neck to calculate the length of rope needed to prevent decapitation….

On the morning of Saturday 21st of February, Prison Governor Edwin Cowan ordered that the scaffold apparatus be ‘thoroughly overhauled, cleaned and tested by the engineer officer and a warden carpenter’…. During the afternoon the apparatus was tested again by the artisan warden and the appointed executioner, in this case a James Berry. The executioner, after testing the equipment twice, verbally reported back to the Governor that he was satisfied all was in working order…. The execution was to take place on the following Monday at 8am….img_0264

Lee was led on to the scaffold, his hands already bound; his legs were then strapped just above the ankles, a hood placed over his head, the noose put around his neck and then adjusted…. James Berry then stepped back and pulled the lever to release the trap doors for Lee to fall through….only it did not happen…. The doors only dropped about quarter of an inch…. The executioner and prison officials stamped on the boards – but nothing budged…. The noose and hood were removed from Lee and he was carried to an adjacent cell….

Berry and the prison officials inspected the apparatus to find out what was wrong – speculating that because it was wet weather the damp had made the wood swell…. A carpenter planed some of the edges and the equipment was tested – this time with a prison officer representing the prisoner by holding on to the rope – everything appeared to be in working order…. Lee was brought back in, the Reverend John Pitkin, Prison Chaplain, once more read the prayers and the process was repeated….once again the trap doors refused to open….

Chief Constable for Devon, Gerald de Courcy Hamilton was present that day….he described how Lee was then subjected to a third attempt (possibly even a fourth – although this was disputed at the time)…. It was the prison’s Medical Officer who intervened, ordering for Lee to be removed to a cell….saying the officials could carry on practicing with a sack of flour, they were not going to experiment on this man any longer….img_0266

The Governor postponed the execution and the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt, was informed….who commuted Lee’s sentence to life imprisonment – his view being that it would be inhuman to put the man through all that again. An investigation was launched to discover the reason for the equipment malfunction….

The trap door of the scaffold had two halves and two sets of hinges….the ones at the outer edges of the door allow the halves to swing downwards. Another hinge was situated along the entire length where the halves met in the middle and were secured by draw bolts – when the lever was pulled these were released. In this instance the scaffold had not been re-erected correctly; the end of the long central hinge was resting on about an eighth of an inch of the draw bolt….combined with Lee’s weight pressing down, the doors were prevented from opening to the pit below….

The Home Office report prompted an inquiry into how all future executions were to be conducted and a redesign of the gallows to stop it from ever happening again….

John Lee continued to protest his innocence….in 1907 – after 22 years of imprisonment – he was released…. For a while he became a minor celebrity, giving talks on his experience…. A silent film was made relating the story. Lee married a local woman called Jessie and he became a father….but then deserted his family to take off with another woman, Adelina Gibbs – a barmaid in the public house he was working in at the time. In February 1911 they set sail from Southampton bound for New York to begin a new life in the United States…. Lee died of a heart attack, March 19th 1945 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, aged 80…. It could be said it is a miracle he didn’t have a heart attack on that fateful day in February 1885…. Perhaps it was Divine Intervention – there was talk that Reginald Templar had confessed to the murder of Emma Keyse on his death-bed….

Scottish Oatcakes….

With Hogmanay coming up, what better way to enjoy a little taste of Scottish fayre than with traditional oatcakes and a large chunk of your favourite cheese….?

Bake these golden oaty biscuits in just a few minutes….

Once traditionally eaten with every meal in Scotland, they make a great alternative to bread….



  • 250 g / 8 oz oat meal
  • 25 g / 1 oz melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 150 ml hot water (from a recently boiled kettle)



Pre heat your oven to 180 degrees C

Place oat meal in a large mixing bowl along with the bicarbonate of soda and pinch of salt

Gradually add the melted butter and hot water, mixing with a wooden spoon, to form a paste

Dust your hands with a little flour and form the paste into a soft dough

Sprinkle your work surface with oats and a little extra flour

Roll out the dough to approximately 1/2 cm thick and use a cookie cutter to cut the rounds. The amount of oatcakes obtained will depend on the size of the cutter

Place on a baking sheet – a good tip is to line with baking parchment

Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a light golden brown

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely

Enjoy !


Will keep in an air tight container for a few days