by Philip Lloyd
Mold shares with other Welsh towns a long tradition of cafes and shops opened by Italian immigrants who came here during the early decades of the twentieth century. I have vivid childhood memories of the weird and wonderful counter-top coffee-making contraptions in the cafes of the Contis and the Rabaiottis and the Riccis in the coalmining valleys of the south which shot out jets of steam and hot water for making cups of coffee, complete with plaques inscribed with the names of their manufacturers in Torino and Milcmo.
But T.Gwynfor Griffith, in his recent book O Hendrefigillt i Livorno (From Hendrefigillt to Livorno) tells the story of two young men who went from Wales to Italy in the middle of the 19th century and who set up their own business in the ancient Tuscan port of Livorno on the coast of the Ligurian Sea.
Before retiring, T.Gwynfor Griffith was Professor of Italian at Manchester University. In 1982, as he says in his book, he was at a Manchester exhibition of paintings of late 18th century Tuscan farming scenes, and during his subsequent researches he read about a later artist from that region who, according to one prominent Italian art critic, hid behind a ‘decidedly English name’.
This supposed English name was that of one Llewelyn Lloyd, and in 1994 T.Gwynfor Griffith found his paintings displayed prominently in an exhibition in Rome. That was the start of several years of enquiries in Italy and Wales – enquiries that have not yet finished, according to his recent article in Yr Enfys (the periodical of Cymry ‘r Byd (the organisation for Welsh people dispersed worldwide).
He found out that a certain William Lloyd (Llewelyn’s father) had emigrated from Flintshire to Livorno as a young man in 1858 to work for another native of the County – Thomas Lloyd, shipping agent and exporter. Within five years William had set himself up in business at the port independently, and soon after he sent for his brother Robert to join him.
William married an Italian girl in 1870, and they had eight children, but the father died while visiting his native area in Wales. The young Llewelyn had no interest in the family business, but his uncle Robert gave him every support in his ambition to become an artist, and he eventually earned fame nationally in his chosen profession (examples of his work hang not only in Italian galleries but across the world, including Lima in Peru). Although Italian was his first language, he was intensely conscious of his Welsh family background, and visited Flintshire with his son William in 1938 in search o f his family roots. He died in 1949.
Where in Flintshire had William Lloyd, Llewelyn’s father, come from? The answer lies in the title of T. Gwynfor Griffith’s book. Hendrefigillt was a farm on the Cilcain Hall Estate. Tenant Robert Lloyd (William and Robert Lloyd of Livorno were his sons) died in 1873; but by then his heir Robert was well established in Livorno, and the freehold was sold at auction in the following year. The poster describes Hendrefigillt as ‘a fertile farm of nearly 200 acres in the Parish of Halkyn, midway between Rhydymwyn and Nannerch Railway Stations on the Mold and Denbigh Railway’.
In his book, T.Gwynfor Griffiths expresses his gratitude to the staff of Flintshire Record Office for helping him with his researches, and especially to Bryn Ellis, who is an expert genaeologist and an authority on the history of the leadmines of Halkyn Mountain. It was Bryn who, with the help of old maps, found out precisely where Hedrefigillt had been – yes, had been, for the house and much of its land vanished during the 1920s expansion of the Hendre limestone quarry alongside the Mold / Denbigh road.
O Hendrefigillt i Livorno is published by Gwasg Gomer and is on sale at Siop y Siswrn, New Street, Mold at £9.95. It contains a selection of Llewelyn Lloyd’s oil paintings – landscapes and portraits (including one selfportrait which he painted when he was in his thirties). This is the first time that they have been seen in Wales.
Llewelyn Lloyd was also the subject of the Art and Craft Lecture at this year’s Denbigh National Eisteddfod, delivered by T.Gwyn Griffith.
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