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George Powell of Nanteos 1842-82

A Short Story based on George Powell, fiction, based on true event of his life.

Opening scene. - A young boy of the age of 8 years, running erratically down the main staircase of Nanteos, with the loud booming voice chasing him. “GEORGE, GEORGE come back here, you’re more trouble than you’re worth”, shouts his father, from the top of the stairs.

It was mid-summer at Nanteos, and luckily for George the front door was open, he sped passed a young servant girl, she gave a shrill as he ran straight out through the opened door, and continued to run into the woods.

George Ernest John Powell was born in 1842, and Harriet, his sister born two years later.  They were the children of Colonel William Thomas Rowland Powell (1815 - 1878) and his wife Rosa Edwina (Cherry) Powell (1818 - 1860). The children were not the healthiest, weak genes caused many illnesses. They lived in their ancestral home of Nanteos Mansion in Aberystwyth. 

George had been ill treated by his abusive father most of his life, he continuously saw his parents arguing and fighting, and when his father’s violent temper exploded his poor mother always suffered the worse. George hated his father so much he wished he was dead.  He spent much of his time sitting in his favourite tree, in the woods, high up in the branches, a safe haven from every day life.  He could see all around, Dai Evans tendering the garden, Millie walking up to home farm for the daily supply of milk and eggs for the house. George could see all the coming and goings of the house, and was in hearing distance when called in for tea.

One summer afternoon, after a beating from his father that morning, George had been up his tree for most of the day, day dreaming, writing poetry and drawing into his scrap book (Which is held in the National Library of Wales today). When suddenly he heard giggling and the twigs snapping in the undergrowth below, it was Miss Lord his Governess, he nearly called out at her, but realised that she was not alone. He quietly clambered onto another branch and could just see her legs and legs of a man lying on the ground, He realised what they were doing and sat very still, not wanting to be found. Placing his hands to his ears not wanting to hear the din that repulsed him so much, he had often hear the same ‘noises of passion’ from Miss Lord’s bedroom. Finally he could see that Miss Lord was standing and kissing her mysterious man friend. As the couple left the woods, separately, he could just spy from the west side of the house, Miss Lord walking to the front of the house; checked the neatness of her clothing just before entering into the house. Then George had the shock of his life, when he saw HIS father entering the library through an opened window, with a satisfied smile on his face. George was dumb struck, he felt so angry, and realised what had been going in HER bedroom over the last couple of months. 

George’s hatred for his father grew and grew, and the beatings continued. One quite well-known incident happened in George’s young life. His father was a very keen sports man, (once left on a shooting outing and didn’t return home for eleven months!)  His father demanded that his impish son ‘a feeble dreamer’ should get into the shooting sport, thrust a shotgun in his hands and demanded that he went out shooting telling him not to return until he shot something.  So George went out and shot the first thing he saw, his father’s prize bull! That certainly did not go down well with his father.

The treatment by his father towards his family worsened. In 1853 Rosa Edwyna (George’s mother) suffered public humiliation. Mr and Mrs Powell were staying with friends at Derry Ormond, Lampeter and on Christmas day in 1853 William T. R. Powell (George’s father) accused his wife of having an affair. And ordered her to leave Derry Ormond immediately because of her indiscreet behaviour, she refused. By the next morning she found that Mr Powell had left taking with him the children. This incident destroyed Mrs Powell’s life. Statements were taken from the servants, by a solicitor, including an affidavit signed by Anne Jones a house maid to the Powell family swearing to oath of improper behaviour witnessed between Miss Lord and William Thomas Rowland Powell.  (Information of the incident are held in the Public Record Office, Ceredigion Archives in Aberystwyth, today)  The deed of separation was signed August 1854, and George’s mother was given a humble abode to live in, near Glan Rheidol. This devastated George and his sister, as they could only see their mother three times a year, and then if that was not enough of a punishment - it was a ‘supervised’ visit. And things worsened, George’s sister Harriet died in 1857 aged 13, of consumption at Nanteos. Three years later his mother died aged 42, broken hearted and all alone. The funeral was rather sad, as her husband pleaded ill-health and didn’t follow the hearse, the cortege to Llanbadarn Fawr church was very small, George followed in the first carriage with a female relative and the other carriages contained a few relatives and friends and servants. There is a small window memorial inscription in her memory, and of her daughter Harriet, in Llanbadarn Fawr Church near Aberystwyth.

School took George away from his very unhappy home. He entered public school at Eton in the 1850’s then on to Brasenose College, Oxford in 1860.  In the same year he published two poetry books under the fictitious name of ‘Miolnir Nanteos’. Most of his poetry is rather deep and melancholy and some have a Pre-Raphaelite influence.  The death of his mother affected him greatly, and is shown through his poetry. 

During his college years he became a close friend to the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 - 1909), a remarkable but strange looking man with a small body, oversized weak-chinned, greenish eyes, and flaming red hair. They were inseparable, and both left Oxford without taking their degree.

George spent most of his time travelling and in 1863 was in Iceland for 6 months collaborating with Eirikur Magnusson on his Translations of Icelandic Legends. He travelled much of Europe over the following years. Collecting works of art of his way. Meeting many influential people, including the “Great Master” Richard Wagner.  Meeting Wagner was indeed a tremendous thrill for George, he attended Wagner’s first ever performance of The Ring of Nibelungs in August 1876, and stayed in Wagner’s home as an honoured guest.  (His love for music shows in his collection in the University of Wales, Aberystwyth today.)

He lived in London and France.  Only occasionally returning home to Nanteos, his ‘Beautiful, But Unhappy Home’.  By now his father was an invalid, and on one visit to Nanteos, George rode his horse on the bride path up to the house. It was during the hunting season, he noticed that there was a gathering of people Otter Hunting around the lake, as he approached to an opening of the path he saw all the eager sportsmen on the banks of the lake, and his father and a friend, both in invalid chairs, with three servants to a chair holding umbrellas and halloaing like mad, in the excitement, the men in charge of the two invalids let go of the chairs, which proceeded to free wheel down the drive, the air was blue with the language, while the men chased frantically after the chairs with the terrified occupiers.

                                                                                                                 Another visit home was not so hilarious in October 1866 George invited Swinburne to stay at Nanteos, the Colonel refused to allow Swinburne to stay at Nanteos. A witness who was there at the time remembered Swinburne’s high-pitched voice and the feverish way he carried on. Instead Swinburne stayed at the Queens Hotel Aberystwyth. He and George behaved in an ungentlemanly manner, halloaing on the beach on their horses and shouting unrepeatable things to the girls in town. They all drank in all the lowest Inns which annoyed the Colonel; it was not the way for a ‘Powell’ to behave. 

Further misbehaviour took place in Normandy in his cottage Chaumiere Dolmance, Etretat, including eating monkey and cavorting with Sailors.  In a letter written from the Chaumiere Dolmance cottage in December 1868, George writes to Swinburne ‘The latest news of a certain Col. P are that is twice as fat as before, heavy even to stupidity, always absent  in mind, and just gone to Nice’.

In 1871, George tried to establish a Free Library and Art Gallery and donate his books and paintings. After much debate, the idea was dropped. In 1874, a library was eventually established in Pier Street Aberystwyth with 1,500 books most of them where from George Powell’s collection.

May 1878 his father died. And George became heir to Nanteos, at the age of 36.  He returned to Aberystwyth in the August of that year.  His arrival at Aberystwyth Railway Station cause a great stir amongst the town folk, he received a hero’s welcome, Hundreds of people welcomed the new Lord of the Manor. A presentation was made by the tenants of Nanteos and residents of Aberystwyth.

Who would have even thought, on that jubilant day that August, that George Powell would only live another four years?  During the four years he became the High Sheriff of Cardiganshire.  This caused great embarrassment when he tripped over his sword while coming out of his carriage, at the church of St Mary’s Cardigan.

A year before his death he married Dinah Harries, a humble girl from Goodwick, Fishguard. They spent a lot of time in her cottage.  He wrote much of his later poems from the beach.  ‘Beach Cottage’ still stands and is lived in today. You can plainly see the beauty of the coast which he found inspiration in the 1880’s.

George Powell’s health had been deteriorating for quite some time, what with high living, self-abuse, and sadomasochism tendencies over the years.  He suffered many bouts of illnesses.  On Tuesday October 17th, George Powell died at Nanteos, after an illness of only a few days, It is very curious that he died the very minute when the first chords of his concert would have sounded, that he was so much looking forward to attending.

He died childless, at Nanteos, his wife re-married and left the country and died in Southern California in the 1950’s.  The Nanteos Estate was left to his cousin William Beauclerk Powell, and George’s vast collections were bequeathed to the University of Wales in Aberystwyth.

© Janet Joel 2016

Links of George Powell related Web Sites -

New Welsh Review

Archives Wales

University of WALES, ABERYSTWYTH George Powell Biography

Archives Hub

Ceredigion County Council