Bob Hayes, known as ‘Yr Hen Fanister’ of Nercwys

Philip Lloyd

Mold photographer Ray Davies is a native of Nercwys. Some years ago he showed me an old exercise book, full of stories describing village life and some of its colourful characters during the 19th Century. They were rather short on conventional punctuation, written in local dialect, and therefore quite difficult to understand at times. But they came to lifemore readily when read out aloud. 1 managed to transcribe some of them and they were published in Papur Fama, the monthly Welsh language community paper for Mold and district in 1996-7. The first one appears below in translation. It describes the escapades of one Bob Hayes – thereafter nicknamed ‘Yr Hen Fanister’ (i.e. ‘Old Banister’ ) – during a rowdy election campaign early in the 19th Century.
Bob Hayes bad come to the district from the Vale of Clvvyd, a miner by occupation, a huge bony fellow, as strong as a horse and matchless as a fighter. No one but his brother Twm would dare pick a fight with him since Bob would win every time. His great delight was fighting or talking about fighting. For some reason his greatest enemies were the Irish. He hated them. If he happened to meet one, he would set upon him, without cause.
Hayes’s nickname of’ Yr Hen Fanister’ dated from the time of the election between Glynn [sic] and Mostyn, when Wil Pant-yr-hwch lost his voice permanently from shouting ‘Mostyn for Ever!’ The Liberals broke into the Black Lion, Mold, in search of the Tories. Doors, windows and furniture were destroyed and many men were injured. Hayes broke off a length of banister from the stairs to set about the enemy, and that gave rise to his nickname thereafter. We children would enjoy listening to him telling the story. ‘ I ran after one of them,’ he would say, ‘down to his house in Pwll Glas. just as I was going through the door, I hit him until he was flat against the wall as if he’d been crucified. Then out came his wife with a poker in her hand. I hit her as well – so hard that she landed in the back of the fireplace like a pincushion.’ Old Hayes would tell us lots of stories in this vein. He wasn’t in the habit of going to church or chapel, having been a bit of a scoundrel and a keen fighter in his youth. However, one exception can be cited. A visit to the local chapel by a preacher from the South was announced. Hayes decided to go and listen to him, or at least go and see him. He was a giant of a man and proved to be an able preacher. He took ‘The Jews and the Crucifixion’ as the text for his sermon. Walking home after the service a neighbour asked Hayes, ‘Well, what did you think of the preacher, Hayes?’ Hayes stopped in his tracks and answered, ‘Well, John bach, he was a clever fellow. I’m sure he’s got a good strong fist, and I would have enjoyed a round or two against him. Did you hear what he said about the Irish crucifying that innocent man? ( Hayes had mistaken Iddewon ‘Jews’ mentioned in the sermon for Gwyddelod ‘ Irish’) But if I and that youngster over there had been there, we would have torn into the damn lot. And those Irish that come over for the harvest are no better – and they’ll find out when I come across any of them.’
After that day, if anyone invited old Hayes to come to chapel, he would say, ‘Well, when will that fighter from the South be here next? I’ll come then.’
He kept his word in respect of the Irish. If he ever met one on the road, he’d knock him down. Or, as he would say, ‘ I grabbed him by the belt and threw him over the hedge as if he was a floor-cloth. I’d say to him,
‘Take that for your sins”.’

When exactly was this election between Glynne and Mostyn, when Bob Hayes earned his nickname? In his Yr Wyddgrug. Trefa’i Gorffennol I Mold, A Town and its Past (Clwyd Record Office 1984), Kevin Matthias refers to W.G.Gladstone’s description of election riots outside the Black Lion in 1841. However, he told me that Glynne and Mostyn were Parliamentary election opponents throughout much of the 1820s and 1830s. So, the ‘ Banister’ escapade could have happened at any time during that period in the first half of the 19th Century.
The above story appeared in PapurFama in late 1996. Soon afterwards, Mr Ray Davies told me that the author was David Griffiths (1853-1924). How did he know? He showed me the contents of the whole exercise book, transcribed and published posthumously in 1973 for his son, the late W.Walton Griffiths in the series ‘Cyfres Hyddgen’ by Dr. Goronwy Alun Hughes at Gwasg Gwenffrwd, Afonwen.
In his introduction W.Walton Griffiths relates how his father came from a shop-keeping family in Nercwys, but had gone to work at the Elm Colliery, Alltami {post 1876), walking there and back – a round trip of eight miles – everyday.
David Griffiths and family moved to Mold in 1911, when he worked at the Bromfield Colliery. He had written his stories between 1890 and 1910, and the treasured exercise book had remained in the family’s possession for many years until his son decided that it was his duty to preserve them in more permanent and accessible form, entitled quite simply Nercwys. The original manuscript is now safe at the County Record Office in Hawarden.

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