North West Wales

Hedd Wyn: Rebuilding the poet's past at his former home

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Media captionConservationists reveal some of the £3m work to restore the home of WW1 poet Hedd Wyn

Conservationists have been showing some of the restoration work under way to safeguard the historical home of World War One poet Hedd Wyn.

The farm - Yr Ysgwrn - in Gwynedd has been awarded nearly £3m in heritage lottery grants to transform it in memory of the poet.

It will be a century next year since his death at Passchendaele.

Thoughts also turn to marking another centenary of the Great War in the coming weeks - the Battle of The Somme.

Gerald Williams is now 87. This is where he grew up, just like his uncle before him, farming the rolling hills on the outskirts of the Gwynedd village of Trawsfynydd.

He was not even born when his uncle was killed on 31 July, 1917. But that has not stopped him from dedicating his life to the memory of Hedd Wyn - the shepherd poet - a man known then by his real name, Ellis Humphrey Evans.

"Hedd Wyn represented the boys in the First World War, didn't he?" states Gerald, leaning heavily on a walking stick he carved himself from a tree on the farm.

"The day Hedd Wyn went over the top, that morning they lost 4,000 young men - the turn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

"It's quite a lot to lose from Wales - Wales isn't very big, is it?"

Image copyright SNPA

So like his grandmother before him, he kept the front door of Yr Ysgwrn open for anyone who wanted to remember the poet's sacrifice, and those of the neighbouring villages.

For many, it has been almost a pilgrimage to see inside the stone-walled cottage, and to peak into the parlour.

It is where for much of the last hundred years you would find 'Y Gadair Ddu' - 'The Black Chair'.

At every National Eisteddfod, the chair is the highest prize that can be awarded to a bard. And in 1917, it was Hedd Wyn's turn for his poem 'Yr Arwr' - 'The Hero'.

According to newspaper reports, rumours were already flying about the crowd gathered for the festival in Birkenhead in Merseyside as the archdruid called out the nom-de-plume of the winning bard - Fleur-de-Lis.

That year, there was no answer. Instead, a silenced audience was told that the winner was Hedd Wyn and "he lay in a quiet grave somewhere in France".

"No words can adequately describe the wave of emotion that swept over the vast audience when the chair was draped with the symbols of mourning," the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard reported.

"When Madame Laura Evans Williams was called on to sing the chairing song there was hardly a dry eye in the place."

The chair is due to undergo careful restoration itself, before it and five other bardic chairs won by the poet are returned to the cottage.

His former home is also getting a make-over.

Standing in the house's kitchen - the 'cegin' - Yr Ysgwrn's project officer Sian Griffiths admits that at the moment, it looks a little naked.

"The furniture has been removed from the cegin and all you've got left now is the hearth, which still gives you a feel," she said.

"But without the fire going and without the dresser and the grandfather clock and all the other ornaments that were here, it is a bit bare at the moment.

"But the light at the end of the tunnel is that they will all be coming back to their rightful place, in the cegin.

"We've catalogued every single item, so we know exactly where it was."

Outside the restoration work is even more frenetic.

The 'Beudy Llwyd' or cowshed that greets you as you wind your way from the road to the farmhouse is set to become the new visitor centre telling the story of Hedd Wyn's life.

Behind the farmhouse sits the 'Beudy Ty' cowshed. It will become a venue to tell the story of loss during World War One.

And work to finish restoring the farm's pig pens is almost complete. They will be the new home for Yr Ysgwrn's bat colonies.

"I know it looks a bit messy at the moment, but that's because we've got two contractors on site - and it's full steam ahead," adds the project officer.

"It's a bit of a tight schedule, but we hope to finish everything by the spring of next year so that we'll be able to open in good time for the centenary."

For Gerald Williams it will be a time to reflect on both his life, and Hedd Wyn's life - cut short at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge.

"Sombre - sombre and special," says the old farmer.

"I hope I will be alive when they finish, to see the finishing touches put on - yes - I hope I'll be in this world then."

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