Emma Louise BETTS and Gwernyfed Hall, Glasbury (BRE)

Tony and Irene Betts of Fareham, Hampshire, would appreciate help with identifying the significance of some old photographs which may link their BETTS family with Gwernyfed Hall. If you can offer information about the photographs, or know anything about their BETTS family, Mr and Mrs Betts would be delighted to hear from you.

Original request received, via Sally Wheller, 5 November 2011

Contribute your own thoughts by e-mailing Hilary Williams, who will pass on your contact details to Mr and Mrs Betts.

Tony Betts provides the following background:

My aunt, Emma Louisa Betts (1891 -1971), was unmarried and a domestic servant until she retired c1951. During her working life Emma accompanied her various employers on visits to country houses

She collected 'souvenir' photographs of such visits, five of which, found together, seem to relate to two visits to Gwernyfed Hall in June 1914 and September 1915. My dear old Dad sent her a postcard in June 1914, addressed to 'Gwernyfed, Three Cocks, R.S.C. Brecon'. The second visit is the subject of these notes, and for the furtherance of the Betts family history the relevant objectives are to:

  1. identify the family living in Gwernyfed Hall at that time;
  2. analyse the two photographs of Gwernyfed Hall c1914/5, from Emma's collection;
  3. analyse and discover the significance of the two contemporary group photographs from Emma's collection.

a) THE RESIDENT OWNERS OF GWERNYFED HALL – The house was designed by architect W. E. Nesfield and built 1877-80 by Colonel Thomas Wood (1853-1933) 'for his wife'. One of Thomas's forebears was Thomas Wood, MP for Breconshire. The house remained in the Wood family until 1922, and therefore in 1914/15 they were the likely hosts to the large gathering and to the employers of my aunt Emma.

b) THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE HOUSE – There are two photographs from Emma's collection – both are blank unsent postcards:

Gwernyfed

Above: Photo 1 – A front view of the Hall, entitled 'Gwernyfed'.

Gwernyfed Hall

Above: Photo 2 – A front view of the Hall, entitled 'Gwernyfed Hall, Glasbury' – (photographer 'Cartwright').

This photograph shows part of the straight drive to the left of the house, and further to the left the stable block, clock, cupola and bell tower.

c) STAFF AND HOUSE GUESTS – There are three photographs from Emma's collection - they are all blank unsent postcards.

Group

Above: Photo 3 – Emma and her colleagues.
Emma is standing at the extreme left (back row). None of the others is known,
but the man seated in the front row, second from right, also appears in photo 4.

Group with scouts

Above: Photo 4 – A 'scouting' group.
Four of the men have a 'favour' in their lapel, of varying shapes but of two shades, meaning unknown,
and the fifth man, seated front row left, has a more rigid flag 'badge' bearing the cross of St George.
The photo is by J. Clark of 13, High Street Brecon, whose descendants have no copy or knowledge of this particular photo.

Large group

Above: Photo 5 – A large group assembled around the steps at the back of what was thought to be Gwernyfed Hall.
The problem with this photo is that the large bay window behind the assembly has five front panes flanked by two side panes, but the front of Gwernyfed as pictured has bays with three front panes and two side panes. This may nonetheless have been at the rear of the Hall. In the picture, there are some very fashionably dressed ladies, and one or two children, and most of the gentlemen are wearing a 'favour' in the lapel, thus giving a connection to the small group photograph No 4 above.
Again, the photographer is J.Clark. The group was evidently too large for all to be included in the picture.

There is thus a strong link between the two group photographs, but without having seen all round the exterior of the house, the question remains as to whether the scene is at the rear of Gwernyfed Hall or at another large local property.

Whilst the two group photographs are strongly linked, there is as yet no answer as to the occasion or purpose of the assemblies except that they may have a scouting connection. There is a story that Lord Baden-Powell visited Gwernyfed Hall (date unknown), and we were told there may be information about this on the Old Hay website, under 'villages'.

Addendum

Midshipman Kidston

Sally Wheller, Local History Librarian at Brecon Library writes: I have a little extra to add to this enquiry. Mr and Mrs Betts sent me a photo of the aviator Glen Kidston, aged 15, when he was a midshipman having survived the sinking of HMS Hogue in September 1914.

The photo was in Emma Betts's family papers. I would say this is the missing link, as it appears that the aviator's father, Archibald Glen Kidston, lived at Gwernyfed Park circa 1910 and died 1913. I think both he and his son are buried in Glasbury Churchyard or at least have plaques there. It also transpires that Glen Kidston was "the first to enrol as a scout in 1909" with the Glasbury Group. So there may well be some sort of Scout link with Gwernyfed.

Glasbury [scout] Troop started in 1909 as is testified by a note in the logbook kept by Judith Butler - it was rather a sad note as it records the death of a former Scout in a flying accident. Glen Kidston was the "first to enrol as a Scout in 1909." He died in 1931 while surveying air routes for the African postal service.

Source: Centenary History - Scouting in Wales, available as a PDF document on the scoutswales website

I haven't checked yet but I wonder whether one of the scouts in Photo 4 is Kidston jr.

It would seem, therefore, that the Kidstons are the connecting link to the event at Gwernyfed. Malcolm Jones, formerly of Brecknock Museum, gave me the Kidston name. He remembered hearing or reading that a Guild striking competition shield was presented by Capt Archibald Kidston of Gwernyfed Park. This presentation actually started in 1912.

Sally Wheller

Sally has also found three contemporary newspaper clippings about the Kidstons of Gwernyfed House. The first two of these items are added below; the third will follow in due course.

 

THE BRECON COUNTY TIMES, THURSDAY, OCT. 1, 1914

MIDSHIPMAN KIDSTON

STORY OF A MARVELLOUS
ESCAPE

Receptions at Hay and Gwernyfed.

Midshipman G. P. Glen Kidston, son of the late Captain Glen Kidston and of Mrs. Glen Kidston, Gwernyfed, Breconshire, who was amongst those saved from H.M.S. "Hogue," when it was sunk with the "Aboukir" and "Cressy," in the North Sea by German submarines, arrived home on Monday evening, and had an enthusiastic reception both at Hay and Gwernyfed. As we reported last week, Midshipman Kidston was included in the survivors taken to Ymuiden, Holland, by the Dutch ship "Flors." On Sunday the whole party were brought to this country, and Mrs. Glen Kidston met her son in London. They came down to Breconshire on Monday, motoring the last stage of the journey from Hereford to Gwernyfed.

At Hay.

There was not much time for the news to spread at Hay on Monday that Midshipman Kidston would be passing through the town in the evening; but a considerable number of people heard it in time and eagerly looked out for him.


Midshipman Kidston

He was cheered along Broad street, and at the top of Belmont road the Hay troop of Boy Scouts and others turned up and lustily cheered. The car was stopped and Assistant Scoutmaster Rhys Harding said a few words of welcome. The car then moved on amid more cheering.

At Home.

Needless to say when the young midshipman — who, by the way, only reached his fifteenth year in June last — arrived at Gwernyfed Park at about six o'clock there was great rejoicing. The Glasbury Co. Boy Scouts, to which he was formerly attached, the keepers and other workmen on the estate, as well as a number of residents of Glasbury, assembled, and the Boy Scouts, headed by their Scoutmaster, Mr. Stuart formed a guard of honour. A German flag had been stretched across the gateway by some of the employees, and amidst loud cheering the car drove through and tore the flag away. The park and house were decorated with bunting, and over the porche were the words "Welcome Home G. K. Hurrah!" To complete the picture the Misses Kidston (3) awaited their brother in dresses of red, white and blue. The chauffeur offered the "welcome home" — a few pathetic and touching words — to which Midshipman Kidston and his mother responded, and ringing cheers for Master Glen and the British Navy wound up the pleasing little ceremony, which was the more effective through being entirely spontaneous.

MIDSHIPMAN KIDSTON'S
STORY.

On Tuesday afternoon a "County Times" reporter had the pleasure of interviewing Mid-shipman Kidston at Gwernyfed, and heard first hand the story of his remarkable escape and subsequent experiences. This tale was coolly told, as of an ordinary day's routine rather than of a most thrilling adventure.
"I was standing on the after bridge of the 'Hogue,' " he said, "watching the 'Aboukir' sinking and was taking a photograph at the time the 'Hogue' was torpedoed. She was hit three times. A great jet of water caused by the explosion rose quite close to me, and immediately the order was given to throw any pieces of wood overboard. This order was

instantly carried out, whilst the 'Hogue' heeled over to starboard with great rapidity. We were then told to save ourselves, and I, among others, jumped overboard, however, I took off my coat and boots, retaining my trousers and shirt. Several of our boats had been previously launched to help the 'Aboukir,' and all who could swam to them. I swam to a boat in which there were some men, and while I was in the water the 'Hogue' disappeared. It was a very fine day and the sea was quite calm. When I reached the boat I discovered it contained sick men, and I therefore had to turn away and seek some other means of rescue. I swam for some distance and luckily I saw floating a target use by our ships in battle practice, and I managed to get hold of this with some other men. We all stuck to the target for about 40 minutes, and its human freight gradually increased until there were 24 men on it altogether. Meanwhile the 'Cressy' was firing at a German submarine all the time, and a great cheer suddenly arose from her deck; and this we thought was due to the fact that she had succeeded in sinking the submarine. But shortly afterwards the 'Cressy' herself was torpedoed and sank. Presently we managed, using one hand, to move the target in the direction of a whaler, which we saw in the distance, and eventually we were picked up by Midshipman Cazelet's whaler. When about 30 men were on board he pulled us off to the 'Hogue' picket-boat, and then went off in search of more survivors."

When picked up by the whaler, Midship-man Kidston was not a bit exhausted, although he had been in the water two hours, and he thinks he could have held on for another two hours. So little concerned was he, in fact, that he coolly proceeded to take off and wring out his trousers and shirt and then redress. As he simply puts it, in seagoing manner, "We had a bit of a shake up and got a bit wet." Indeed he treats the whole thing in a most casual way. Proceeding with his narrative, Midshipman Kidston said: "Our picket boat had apparently been 'stove in' by the explosion , and was making water. This necessitated two men working in the soke hole bailing as fast as they could. Suddenly we saw a cloud of black smoke on the horizon and presently we sighted the Dutch steamer 'Flora.' But it was not until two or three hours later that the 'Flora' reached us; she came up along with the Dutch steamer 'Titan.' First of all the 'Cressy's' boats pulled up alongside the 'Flora,' and those in our boat were the last lot but one to go on board the Dutch steamer. Needless to say, we were all exceedingly glad to get there. The Dutch sailors were very kind to us and gave us food and as much clothing as possible. There were some painful scenes. One officer had both legs broken, several were badly injured, and one midshipman was hysterical, but he recovered later. I myself was none the worse, except for a ducking and the loss of all my personal belongings on the 'Hogue.' Altogether there were 287 men and 25 officers rescued on board the 'Flora,' and she immediately went full speed for Ymuiden, in Holland".

Although Midshipman Kidston did not see them himself, others declared that two German submarines were seen in the vicinity after the survivors were taken on board the 'Flora,' notwithstanding the Germans' statement that there was one there. When disembarked at Ymuiden, to their disappointment the British party were told that they were to be interned for the rest of the war. They were marched through the streets to various hotels and hospitals, most of them being in a very odd and scanty assortment of clothing. The people of Ymuiden were very kind to them and a good supply of clothes was soon forthcoming. The following day they were marched to the railway station bound for Alkmaar, but as there were some Germans interned at that place, and the authorities feared a "scrap," they were taken off to St. Nicholas, and finally, after a twelve miles march, landed at Gasterland, in Friesland, where they were kept for over a week. While they were in the train a Dutch soldier was stationed in every carriage to prevent escape. The Dutch people were very curious to see the British sailors and assembled in large numbers to gaze at them. Before they left Ymuiden they gave hearty British cheers for the people of the town and for Holland. While at Friesland the people were very kind, bringing cigars and cigarettes, but some of the men said that a British "Woodbine" was better than a Dutch cigar! After being in the detention camp in Friesland for over a week Midshipman Fidston was amongst those brought back to Flushing on Sunday, and later he arrived in London, where he was met by his mother. He was in a very Dutch rig out, wearing the blue cap, and carrying all his available possessions a towel and shirt in a bundle. He quite enjoyed himself in Holland, he says, and does not feel a bit worse for the adventure. Certainly he looks as well as if he had been on a holiday cruise instead of through a disaster. It is almost superfluous to add that Mrs. Glen Kidston feels exceedingly proud of her son, and is very glad to get him back home once again, although it is only on a ten days furlough.


The World War 1 Naval Combat website offers a detailed description of the action in the North Sea on 22 September 1914 in which three vessels of the Royal Navy were attacked and sunk by the German U-boat U9, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Otto Weddigen, with the loss of over 1400 lives.

Just over a year earlier, Glen Kidston's father, also named Glen, had died, aged only 42. The tragic event was announced in the Brecon County Times on 4 September 1913 (below):

THE BRECON COUNTY TIMES, THURSDAY, SEPT. 4, 1913

DEATH OF CAPTAIN GLEN KIDSTON

We deeply regret to announce the death of Captain Glen Kidston, which took place on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after three o'clock, at his Breconshire residence, Gwernyfed, Three Cocks, at the comparatively early age of 42 years.

The deceased gentleman had been in failing health for some time, but there was such a marked improvement in his condition in the spring that many friends who knew his great worth then permitted themselves to hope that a life so valuable to those amongst whom he lived — and indeed to a very much wider community — might be spared for a long time to come. It was not to be, however. Towards the end of July, Captain Kidston’s illness appeared right on till within a few hours of his death, giving close personal attention to innumerable matters of private and public import, and resolutely refusing to permit himself that freedom from duty’s tasks which his physical weakness really demanded. He seemed to be filled with that spirit which made Cecil Rhodes cry out, when his earthly course was closing, that there was still so much to do ; and having a wonderful native energy and determination of purpose, he doggedly worked on till the very last. To those next and dear to him, it must now be a priceless consolation to know, as they do, that his time was largely spent in carrying out plans for the benefit of others, and that all through his trying illness he was as eager to help the distressed or to assist any good public movement as he was in the days of robust help. It is given to no man to be perfect, and Captain Glen Kidston was a man — impetuous, as generous souls are apt to be — but a personality more winning that his it would be almost impossible to imagine. One just had to like him; the attraction of his kindness and geniality was an irresistible force. The loss to Breconshire which his death occasions cannot yet be measured; what we realise now is that it is so great that we know not how the gap is to be filled. His memory will be cherished here until the children of to-day are old men and women, for he loved all little folk, and so many of them knew it that they will treasure up the name of Glen Kidston amongst those happy recollections of childhood which nothing can efface.

Archibald Glen Kidston came from a well known West of Scotland family. He was born on April 4th, 1871, the eldest son of the late Mr George J. Kidston of Finlaystone, Renfrewshire. N. B. The family was closely associated with the development of the shipping industry on the Clyde and this interest in one of the leading shipping centres of the Kingdom was carried on by Captain Kidston, who had been for some years chairman of the Clyde Shipping Co. The deceased gentleman was educated privately, and afterwards took a commission in the 3rd Royal Highlanders, in which regiment he became captain and in which he remained until his death. He married in 1898 Miss Chapman, daughter of Spencer Chapman, Esq., of 84 Eccleston Square, London, and leaves her with two sons and three daughters. The elder son is a naval cadet at Osborne.

Captain and Mrs Glen Kidston and family came to reside in Breconshire some five years ago, taking Gwernyfed, Three Cocks, a beautifully situated mansion with historic associations. It was not long before the presence in the county of such a forceful personality as that of Captain Kidston was felt and appreciated. He had the will and the means to do good, and he set about doing it, both in private in assisting individuals and in public in supporting charitable and other societies. He was one of the promoters of and principal subscribers to the Talgarth Agricultural Show, which particularly affected his own immediate district; later he took the presidency of the great Breconshire Agricultural Show at Brecon, and this year he served a similar office for the revived agricultural show at Builth Wells. His gifts to these and similar societies, intended to foster the industry of agriculture on which Breconshire mainly depends, would make a long list if they could be all set down.

A loyal Churchman, he liberally supported diocesan and other Church funds; and in his own parish church, St Peter's, Glasbury, he took an intense interest. He gave a new organ and a handsome screen and installed electric light, amongst other benefactions; and being very fond of music, constantly arranged organ recitals of a high standard, which were greatly appreciated in the locality. His interest in St Peter's Church extended to the bell-ringing, and having done much to encourage the local band of ringers, he instituted an annual bell-ringing competition, presenting a beautiful shield as a trophy.

In politics Captain Kidston was a Conservative, of the modern school. On more than one occasion he was heard to declare that he


Capt Kidston's death

loathed politics as a question of party strife; but much as he disliked party conflict, he felt that there was a duty imposed on him to do what he could to promote the Conservative cause, the success of which he believed to be necessary for the welfare of the country. And so he was found bringing his wonderful zeal and tireless energy to bear on the Conservative organisation in Breconshire, and by special conferences and in other ways he infused a new spirit of enthusiasm and confidence into the party which has not yet ceased to bear fruit. He was made a vice president of the Breconshire Conservative Association, in recognition of his many services, at the last annual meeting. Here it is fitting, perhaps to mention that for several years he had been the chairman of the directors of the "Brecon County Times" Ltd., and took a deep interest in the progress of this paper.

Captain Kidston's large-hearted affection for children found expression in various ways and on many occasions. He was constantly devising treats for the youngsters of the district surrounding Gwernyfed, and as recently as July last had a monster children's fete in Gwernyfed Park, when some 8,000 Sunday School scholars from Breconshire and Radnorshire were taken there in special trains, etc., which he provided. He would do anything for children and one recalls, as a flash-light on the secret of his influence, a road-side incident in which he was the happy centre of a group of urchins, for whose benefit he produced weird noises from some mysterious place in his motor-car. Though it was not generally known in Breconshire, he was a most liberal supporter of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and showed his sense of its value by bringing its claims before his young guest at the July fete.

He found his personal pleasure mostly in shooting and fishing, but there was no form of genuine sport that did not appeal to him, as witness the generous help he gave to the Gwernyfed Coursing Meetings, from which his neighbours and particularly the farmers, derived so much pleasure; and his making of a splendid cricket ground near the mansion and encouraging a local team to improve their knowledge of the game in the kindest possible way. He was one of the finest game shots in the kingdom and was a strong supporter of the National Retreiver Trials, in which he had some success as an owner. To salmon fishing he was strongly attached. He joined the Board of conservators for the Wye and was very keen about improving the salmon fishing in that river, and was always ready to give his views a practical form. He was just as much interested in improving the salmon fishing in the Naver, in the North of Scotland, where he rented Skelpick Lodge from the Duke of Sutherland. The happy brush of a local peer has preserved for friends an incident of the deceased's Scotch fishing experiences showing that no obstacle was great enough to daunt him.

He was made a Justice of the Peace for Breconshire some time since, but rarely exercised the office of a magistrate. Neither the judicial role nor the small disputes of local authorities appealed to him, and though, had he lived, he might have been persuaded to seek election on the County Council, it is certain that nothing but a strong sense of duty would have impelled him to that course.

The funeral will take place at St. Peter's Church, Glasbury, on Friday, at 2.30 p.m., and we understand that flowers may be sent to the church.


 


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