Tales of Wales
Page 1: Vicars & Tramps | Page 2: The Lady of the Lake
1: Vicars and Tramps
During the Victorian era the diarist Reverend Francis Kilvert was the incumbent at various small parishes on the Welsh Border. When he was the curate for the village of Clyro, near Hay-on-Wye, he spent much of his time walking over the nearby hills. On one such walk he came across one of Mid Wales' most eccentric characters - the Reverend John Price. The Rev. Price was the vicar at St. Peter's church Llanbedr, a minute hamlet nestling in the Radnor Hills.
Kilvert knew him, Price was about 60 years old, with luxuriant
chestnut hair and moustache and a white beard. He wore a greasy
black dress coat, broken shoes, a large cravat and a tall hat. There
was no vicarage and he lived first in a small cottage, then in three
bathing machines known as The Huts, and finally, when The Huts were
destroyed by fire, in a small grey building which had once been a
chicken shed. Kilvert went to visit him in this cabin, called Cwm
Ceilio, and found inside a wild confusion of litter, books and
decaying food; but outside it was "open to the South, and the
sun, and the great valley of the Wye, and the distant blue
To find new members for his congregation, the Rev. Price scoured the highways and hedgerows. Soon his offer of sixpence (two and a half pence in contemporary UK coinage) per head per service began to fill his pews with unwashed tramps. Furthermore he provided oil stoves so that the tramps could cook meals during the sermon. Later, when he lost his tiny private income, the fee of sixpence had to be reduced to fourpence. This new proposal was solemnly discussed in the churchyard and finally accepted by a sort of informal tramps' trade union.
Price also offered 5 shillings to each pair of vagrants 'living in sin' who would consent to let him join them in Holy Wedlock. As his sight was very weak, several business-like couples let him marry them half a dozen times.
Having sunk into a very neglected state in his old age, he was taken by friends to Talgarth hospital, in the lea of the Black Mountains, where it was found necessary to cut his clothes off his skin. He did not survive the bath which followed. Despite the squalor and loneliness, Price was a scholar who had invented and published two methods of shorthand.
Page 2: The Lady of the Lake
The Radnor Hills, to the north of Hay-on-Wye, are great cycling country. If you want to visit John Price's church (his grave can be seen in the churchyard) the map reference is: SO 142464 (Ordnance Survey landranger map 148). You can read more about Rev. Francis Kilvert and the time he spent in Mid Wales and the Welsh Borders in 'Kilvert's Diaries', paperback, published by Penguin Books.
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