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Dafydd Price shares a story about an old Welsh dresser



 



This film was created by People's Collection Wales staff druing the National Eisteddfod at Glamorgan 2012 When my parents got married in 1938 they did not have much furniture and my father was a baker on Anglesey in Aberffraw where I was born. When he was doing his bread rounds one day he came across an old barn and inside was this old Welsh dresser. He bought the dresser from the farmer and apparently this dresser had just been left there and had even been painted green. MY father set about cleaning the dresser and my mother spent years polishing the dresser so you could see your reflection in the shine. There was however some kind of mystery associated to this dresser, because in the left corner of the dresser on the flat surface area, there is a piece of about 2” by 3” which has been cut out of the dresser and replaced with another piece of wood. This piece did not belong to the original dresser and neither did it look as if the piece had just been put there to replace any possible damage which had been caused to the dresser. The piece had been inserted by a craftsman who had taken great pains to try and blend the two pieces together. We knew nothing more than this but many years later while I was still a young boy, my father came home one day and said that he had found the answer to the mystery of the dresser,. He told us that in the history of the dresser it had once belonged to a family who had suffered a loss a sadness in the family. This sadness was that they had either lost a baby or a small child and that a small part of the child's coffin had been cut out and been replaced with a piece of the Welsh dresser. You can then imagine the mother polishing this small piece of the dresser and remembering about her lost child.



Strangely enough when you stand and look at the dresser your hand naturally is drawn to this small piece of wood on the dresser and you are inclined to lean on this piece. And that is the story. Quite possibly this is a Welsh tradition. However my wife and I like to visit the Islands of the Outer Hebrides. We visited Barra there about 5 years ago and they have set up a Heritage museum there. The collections are common to the kind of furniture you might find in a Welsh cottage in the days before electricity. In the corner of the museum is an old dresser, not as fancy or in as good condition as the dresser we own. Much of the reason for that is to do with the condition and type of wood they would have used to make the dresser. Intuitively I walked over to the dresser and immediately made my way to the left hand side of the dresser and I could not believe my eyes, there in front of me I saw the same shaped piece of wood had been cut out from this dresser. I could not believe it. I turned to the lady who was working at the museum and asked her to explain why there was a piece of wood 2”x 3” been cut out of the dresser and replaced with another piece of wood. She had no idea so I began to tell her about the story behind our Welsh dresser and the piece of replaced wood in connection with the dead child. The lady marvelled at this and said it was quite astonishing because she actually knew where the dresser in the museum had come from. She knew the family which once owned the dresser and also knew that there was a history bereavement and that these had been children. Of course loosing children was not something unusual when you consider the period in time we can link the dresser to. This however did not lessen the grief or sadness. The other thing I was interested in was why the piece of wood had been removed and replaced on the left side of the dresser. I wondered if there was a significant reason for that. Perhaps it was just a coincidence but it could be because the word left in Welsh chwyth also represents the feeling of hurt which in the Welsh language we would say gweld chwyth which roughly translated would mean to have been offended or hurt in some way.


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