Dr John Davies — a tribute

Thursday 19 February 2015

Dr Diane Williams, Cadw's Conservation Publishing Manager, pays tribute to the esteemed historian Dr John Davies

Dr John Davies signing copies of The Making of Wales/ Llunio Cymru in 2009

Dr John Davies signing copies of The Making of Wales/ Llunio Cymru in 2009

Fondly known to Cadw staff as Dr John, we were saddened to hear that the eminent Welsh historian, John Davies, died on 16 February 2015.

John Davies’s association with Cadw began around 1995 when we approached him to write The Making of Wales (published in 1996). Coming not long after his immensely successful Hanes Cymru, which he had recently published in English as The History of Wales, we were looking for an author who could tell the story of Wales through the impact of people on the landscape. W. G. Hoskins had written The Making of the English Landscape; we wanted John Davies to do the same for Wales.

With both elegance and erudition, The Making of Wales successfully traced the evolution of the Welsh landscape from prehistoric times through to the present day. John Davies managed to explain how at least 200 generations of human beings have left layer upon layer of impressions on the landscape so that at almost any point in Wales it is possible to look out and gaze across a rich palimpsest.

Some 14 years later, we asked John to help celebrate Cadw’s twenty-fifth anniversary with a new edition – this time in Welsh as well as English. The 2009 editions of Llunio Cymru and The Making of Wales could reflect on ten years of devolution and how Cadw itself had changed during this time.

Gracious and generous with his knowledge and time, John willingly sat in the bleak surroundings of Cadw’s stock warehouse to sign copies of his book for eager Cadw supporters. Equally, he was happy to preside over book launches and talk with great humour and eloquence about his passion for Wales and its primary virtue – ‘it is the right size for loving’.

When asked to name his favourite site for Cadw’s magazine, Heritage in Wales, John chose not one, but three, namely The Three Castles in Monmouthshire - Skenfrith, Grosmont and White. But it was ‘the delectably verdant landscape whose tranquillity has no parallel anywhere’ rather the architectural glories that he remembered, ‘a landscape in which medieval castles nestle rather than glower’.

Friend and supporter of Cadw, it is perhaps fitting to close with John’s own words of reflection on the Welsh landscape and the enduring legacy of our ancestors which transcends time to speak to us today:

‘I walk down from the Blorenge to the upper reaches of the Clydach Gorge, a place resonant with meaning. On the way, I suck the juice of the mountain’s fat whinberries and nibble the grain of the wayside wild oats. At the top of the gorge, reddish water rich in iron drips from the rock and a narrow vein of coal emerges on the cliff side. I drink the iron water and chew a little coal.

I am in communion with the land.’

Diane Williams, 19 February 2015