Presteigne Wales 2019
The Rodd Trust is set in an historic grade 2 listed building and farmland within in a beautiful woodland setting close to Presteigne. The trust was set up by the Australian artist, Sidney Nolan and his wife Mary. In 2008, a new arts programme, principally funded by Arts Council England (ACE), was set up focusing on sculpture but sought to encourage multi art forms and collaborative work. The Rodd now offers opportunities to all artists to stay and respond to the landscape and history of Presteigne.
I stayed together with four fellow artists in the farmhouse where we collaborated to produce an exhibition to the public at the end of our stay. The old milking shed was to be our studio so we had lots of space and light in which to work. Some of us were drawn to the landscape and local customs whilst I was inspired by the true tale of a local girl who lived and worked in eighteenth century Presteigne.
Nolan created many works, some of which can be seen in the house. When he died in 1992, he bequeathed many of his paintings along with farmland and property to charity. His wife carried on his legacy promoting the trust .
I decided to explore the lovely town of Presteigne just a couple miles from The Rodd. I had looked at notable characters famous to the area and came upon the story of Mary Morgan. She was made infamous for the murder of her new born. Born in Glasbury, Wales in 1788, Mary was a typical servant girl, sent to work for Walter Wilkins Esq, at Maesllwch castle in the county of Radnorshire. It was whilst in service that she fell pregnant and kept her pregnancy secret right up until the birth. On the delivery of her child, which she bore alone in her quarters, she killed and tried to conceal her baby.
Mary was held and tried at The Judges House by Judge Hardinge. She was tried and sentenced to hanging on the 13th April the year 1805
Mary’s body was buried in unconsecrated ground near the church but later that same afternoon her public execution drew large crowds. She was later commemorated by two gravestones in the churchyard of Presteigne.
Mary worked as a servant girl, as so many very young girls did in those days. It was commonplace for these girls to be subjected to sexual abuse and advances from their rich and powerful male employers. As a young girl with no real life experience she would have been fair game.
Nobody knew the identity of Mary’s baby and she never revealed his name. She took this secret to her grave and left speculation in its wake. There were rumours the eldest son of the squire was to blame. It was said there was a rapport between the two, others said the father was a servant in the household but nothing was ever substantiated.
Mary was but 17 years old when she gave birth alone in her quarters. She would have felt desperate at the predicament she now found herself in. Acting out fear and desperation, Mary slay her new born child and attempted to conceal it as so many young girls in service did. Girls who became pregnant were instantly dismissed without recommendation and this in turn brought great financial hardship.
Rumour had it that Judge Hardinge held a soft place in his heart for Mary who first met the girl at Maesllwch castle where she worked. The rumour says he was seen weeping at her graveside whenever he passed in Presteigne. This lead to the suspicion that he could have been the father of Mary’s child. The people of Presteigne believed Mary was another young innocent cruelly used by gentry and to this day her story remains incomplete.