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Fact About Wales and the Welsh

15. The Holy Grail is to be found in Wales.
While England enjoys its legend concerning the planting of Joseph of Arimathea's staff, where it blooms as the Glastonbury Thorn, Wales has preserved an even more wondrous legend connected with the holy man,that of the Grail itself. At Nant Eos (Stream of the Nightingale), not far from Aberystwyth, there stands an old mansion house that was lived in by the Powell family for centuries. In 1876, the Powells put one of their ancient heirlooms on public display. It was a battered, old cup made of wych elm that supposedly came from nearby Strata Florida Abbey at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The relic is a Holy Grail, supposedly made out of the wood of the true cross and brought to Britain by Joseph.

For centuries, pilgrims had been drinking out of this wooden vessel to partake of its healing powers. On display with the cup were a number of paper slips attesting to the cures effected. Last displayed in 1960, the cup was found to have been badly worn with many pieces having been broken off and kept for good luck by those who came to enjoy its healing powers. Having lost its silver rim, placed to protect the cup from damage, the Grail is said to have now lost its miraculous powers.

There is an interesting story connected with the Welsh Grail. It has been told that the great composer Wagner stayed at Nant Eos in 1855, and inspired by the presence of the cup and the legend of the knights who undertook many courageous adventures on the quest to find it, began work on his opera "Parsival". That the opera was started ten years before Wagner's visit to the Powell family should not detract those who treasure such legends. As far as the Holy Grail itself is concerned, the cup at Nant Eos has as good a claim as any other.



16. A Welshman co-founded the New York Times.
It is not generally known that the New York Times, that most American of US newspapers, owes it origin to a Welshman, George Jones. Jones was born in the Welsh slate producing area of Poultney, Vermont, the son of an immigrant from Montgomeryshire, Mid-Wales who had married a titled Irish lady at a little Dissenters Chapel (as the Baptists were then known). Orphaned at the age of 13, George worked as a clerk and errand boy for a store owner who published the Northern Spectator, a newspaper that also employed Horace Greeley as a printer's apprentice. When Greeley established the New York Tribune in 1840, Jones worked with him for a short while but declined a partnership in the paper. His friendship with Henry J. Raymond gave them the idea of beginning their own newspaper.

Raymond became Lt. Governor of New York and Speaker of the Assembly. After a bill was passed that lowered profits on the business of redeeming bank notes, in which Jones had been profitably employed, he and Raymond pooled their resources to found the New York Daily Times, the first issue of which was published on September 18, 1851. Jones was publisher and business manager, remaining with the paper, which became the New York Times, for over 22 years. A highlight of his tenure came when he refused to accept a $5,000,000 bribe to stop publication of documents exposing the Boss Tweed Ring. This led to that crime-organization's downfall.



17. A Welsh-American invented the first automobile.
One day in 1805, in the streets of Philadelphia, Oliver Evans drove his Orukter Amphibolos (Amphibious digger) down to its intended work site, the Schuylkill River, using his own high-pressure steam engine to power the wheels. The first self-propelled vehicle in the Americas, the monstrous digger, a 17 ton steam-powered dredge, had made its debut, no doubt scaring everyone who happened to be in the vicinity of Market Street and City Hall that day. Though Evans had built his leviathon with the sole intention of dredging the river to make it available for ships, by using its own power to get it to the Schuylkill, he had, in fact, created the first automobile.

Evans was born to a family of Welsh settlers in New Castle County, Delaware in 1755. After an apprenticeship as a wheelwright, he began to experiment with steam power, inventing many laborsaving devices in his flour mills on the Brandywine River. He moved to Philadelphia in 1792 where he manufactured milling machinery and continued his experiments with steam at the same time that Cornishman Richard Trevithick was working on his own engines in Britain. Evans patented his high-pressure steam engine early in 1804, originally intending it for use on waterways, not roads, though he had dreamed of some kind of bus to carry passengers on land. By 1806, he had constructed over 100 steam engines, and, following his example, steam-driven flour mills were rapidly proliferating in the former colonies.

Trevithick's successes with steam locomotives at Pen y Darren in Wales; the proliferation of railroads, following the invention of suitable iron rails; and the progress being made in American steam ships discouraged Evans's work. Trouble in receiving credit and patents for his inventions culminated in a disastrous fire at the Mars Iron works that destroyed many of his plans and machinery. This is believed to have contributed to Evans' death in 1819. Nevertheless, we have his brilliant, inventive mind to thank for the first automobile to be built (and driven successfully) in the United States, his Orukter Amphibolos.



18. The world's largest second-hand bookstore is in Wales.
Though Wales is visited primarily for its magnificent scenery impressive castles and charming sea-side resorts, the fourth most popular destination, attracting over a million visitors a year, is a little town on the River Wye, appropriately called Hay-on-Wye. A proliferation of book shops has earned the otherwise sleepy little border town the title of "largest second-hand book shop in the world," for the whole town seems to be one massive collection of books, a bibliophile's dream.

The whole thing began in the early 60's when resident Richard Booth opened an antique store in which he also sold some books. The books sold far better than the antiques and soon the clever entrepreneur was buying up every available piece of property in town to store and sell books. He bought the old cinema, the firehouse, the workhouse, a chapel and even the ruins of the ancient castle. It wasn't long before Mr. Booth began to advertise himself as "the world's biggest second-hand book seller." He began to attract attention from book lovers, not just in the nearby urban conglomerations of Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol, but also to eventually draw connoisseurs (and the merely curious) from London and even overseas.

In the regal book-filled castle, high on its hill overlooking the main streets of the little town, Mr. Booth states, "Books are essentially an international and not a purely metropolitan market.... Books are a part of tourism and I want to give book selling a carnival images. I think a town where the bookshops are bigger than the supermarkets can be a major attraction because it is offering a retailing service that no other town in the world offers." He also informs us that even in the 17th century, Hay-on-Wye was a book town, allowing malefactors locked up in the stocks to read while they endured their punishment. Perhaps it is better that tourists do not know that the stocks were put together only by a local carpenter in the 1960's.

The initial success of Booth's books brought other book merchants to town eager to take advantage of the low rents and warehouse costs. Even Oxfam opened a second-hand bookshop, and Booth began to promote himself, becoming some kind of celebrity known for eccentricity and outrageous ideas. On April 1, 1977, disdainful of big business and government indifference to the fate of little towns in Britain, he declared Hay-on-Wye an independent state. He crowned himself king, issued passports for carefree travel, a local currency and petitioned the local town council to ban automobiles in favor of bringing back the horse to create employment for blacksmiths, grooms and stable-boys. When a fire destroyed much of the castle in the early 1980's "King Richard" was forced to sell many of his properties. Other booksellers were only too anxious to move into town, which continued to grow in reputation as the place to find any book you wanted, but couldn't find elsewhere.

In 1989, the first Hay-on-Wye Festival of Literature was held in the Welsh town that, thanks to Richard Booth, had firmly established itself in the world of books. Still living in his castle and presiding over the festivities, on April 4, 1998, the indefatigable Booth marked the 21st anniversary of his declaration of the town's independence by being crowned Emperor of all Book Towns. Stephen Davies, the first person to be born in the town following the declaration, carried out the ceremony, attended by former ministers and peers of Hay Street Theatre. The festivities included workshops in banner and lantern making and were preceded by a procession and fireworks.

The proliferation of antique shops and restaurants that have sprung up in the shadow of the second-hand bookshops has led to declining towns in other parts of Britain and abroad to seek Booth's assistance. So far, 30 towns in Europe and another 30 in the US have taken advantage of his ideas and promotional schemes. Hay-0n-Wye, meanwhile, receives little or no input from the Wales Tourist Board and runs its own tourist information center. To soothe the feelings of patriots on both sides of the border, it considers itself neither in Wales nor England, but lying comfortably between the two. However, the town is indisputably in Wales.

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