Saturday, 26 September 2009

Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust

In my search for information, on Thursday I took the day off work and made an appointment to visit the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, whose offices are just a couple of streets away. I was told that it would be best to submit your requests in advance, so that they would have all the materials ready for you when you arrived. Well!

I arrived, and the person who answered the door had no idea who I was. I was invited in and told that no one was available to see me, and asked to wait. I was shown into an office where they looked at me expectantly and asked what I wanted. Not a good start! I explained and they rushed around and eventually found my questions, but were obviously not prepared. So they kept me talking while they rushed off to look for stuff.

Then it turned out that their meeting room has dry rot, which is being treated, so they squeezed me onto someone's desk (I don't know where they worked while I was there), and gave me a pile of books and files to look at. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it.

Anyway, I was there for three hours, and took loads of notes. Some things I just noted references as I thought I had the information already. They told me I can go back any time and ask for specific things, now I have seen the files, and I was allowed to photocopy some stuff.

The most interesting thing was that Dr Edith Evans, who wrote the booklet which I started my research with - Swansea Castle and the Medieval Town - works for GGAT and talked to me for quite a while. I suspect it may have been her desk I borrowed.

I also found a source which referred to Alina as Alianora, but I think I'll stick with Alina. The family name has also gone through several permutations. In France they were de Briouze. In England they were de Braose, and there is a lot of resource material still using that name. Then, locally, they were de Breos. I also found out that the local pronounciation for many generations for Parc le Breos, named after the family, is more like Brouze. Interesting.

Oh, one more thing. Gerald Gabb (see previous post) emailed me and asked for a copy of my outline, because he was so impressed with it. I am delighted.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Real People

After doing a lot of research in the library and online, I have finally plucked up the courage to talk to some real people, face to face. I met with Gerald Gabb last night. He is recently retired from Swansea Museum, and the lady who gave me his email address told me that no one else was a patch on him for local history, so I was quite nervous. I am really grateful that he was so nice to me, and seemed impressed with the extent of my research - I didn't want to look like an amateur. I am also grateful for all the trouble he went to, providing me with books to check out and notes of other sources. I just wanted to pick his brains but he had done some research for me as well.

Apart from more information, the great thing about talking to someone is the chance to toss ideas around and discuss approaches to the subject. For instance, I have details of the daily life of a baronial household in the thirteenth century, but I wasn't sure how much I could ascribe it to the de Breoses. We talked about how poor they might have been (or not) and where the money came from and where it went. I all helps me to get a picture of the context of Alina's life. He also approved of my outline, which has helped me begin to shape the story I want to tell.

Another thing we discussed was their colouring. In an earlier post I surmised that the Normans would be blond and blue eyed, as they were descended from the Vikings who settled in northern France. Mr Gabb pointed out that there were knights from a wide area who came over with William the Conqueror, so they wouldn't all be 'north men', and the Vikings would have intermarried with the local people. Once in England, and then Wales, they also intermarried with the English and the Welsh. Indeed, some of the earlier de Breoses married Welsh princesses. So, basically, anything goes for their colouring. I like the idea of blond and blue eyed for my heroine, it's appropriately romantic!

Alina is interesting, not just because of the times she lived through because of her father and her husband, but because information about women is rare from those days. Still, Mr Gabb's first comment about a biography of Alina was that it would only be half a page! It will be longer than that, but I will be including background, which will make it much longer and add colour and context. Still, I doubt it will be long enough to publish, and he also agreed that a historical novel is the way to go. But I want to write the biography first to get my facts straight.

I have other people to see too. I have an appointment on Thursday morning at the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, which I found, to my surprise, is almost around the corner from where I live. I have submitted questions to them about Swansea and Oystermouth Castles and some other bits and pieces. I also contacted Roger Parmiter, the chairman of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, who is going to get me a copy of his drawing of how Oystermouth Castle might have looked, and has agreed to meet me when he returns from holiday. So it's all starting to come together!

Monday, 14 September 2009


My research is progressing in a new direction, and I have begun to write, but cannot post it yet. Let me explain.

Firstly, the research. I feel I have gleaned all I can for now from the internet and the library. All I am finding is more copies of the same information. What I need now is someone to discuss it with and ask some specific questions. To that end, I have plucked up courage and telephoned the contacts I was given. One has agreed to meet me in a week or two, and I have been given the other's email address. I also feel I am ready to contact the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, as I have specific questions about the castles. I have taken time to survey my research and list my questions, so I have some clarity.

Secondly, I found the Swansea Writers Circle and attended a meeting. Not only were they just what I was hoping for, but the speaker of the evening talked about writing a historical biography, so it was obviously meant to be! I mentioned my work on Alina and my questioning whether to write a biography or a historical novel, and it was unanimous around the table that, being so far in the past, a novel would be the best approach. We had 'homework' to write a pen portrait in less than 1000 words, which I completed this evening - on Alina, of course. But I can't post it until it's been handed in and 'marked'.

Thirdly, I contacted the Swansea Central Magazine and offered them an article on Swansea Castle, which they accepted. They didn't give a word count or deadline, but I have written it, and after a review, will be sending it off. So I can't post that either, until it's published.

Sorry to disappoint anyone out there who is actually following this, but be glad for my progress. I promise to write some more of the story for you next. There's lots of good stuff.