Cwltrin: an Aid for Hen-Pecked Husbands

The ‘y ceffyl pren’  or Cwtrin is thought to have evolved from an ancient Welsh Law that was abolished during the Tudor times. The ‘y ceffyl pren’  was a common humiliation tool used during both the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  This form of humiliation involved the ‘offender’ being bound to a wooden frame or ‘wooden horse’ and being paraded through the streets of his/her community.

A description of ‘y ceffyl pren’ from the papers of the Mathias Family of Pendelio:

'Wooden horse: a ladder used as a stretcher in former years for carrying a person, tied thereon, around the district so as to expose them for some great sin, or disgraceful act which they had committed. The leading carriers were all masked so as to disguise their identity, and it was part of their programme to stick pins in the person tied on the wooden horse, as well as to torture them in other ways. It was the same in principle as the ducking stool of olden times, and was in later years replaced by a burning of a person's effigy, which consisted of an image made with a stick and old rags (a kind of Aunt Sally) which was saturated with oil or tar and then put fire to - the crowds around singing loudly, "We'll hang old ---- on the sour apple tree", using the name of the person desired to be exposed.'

One example of this punishment happening is in the community of Craig-y-Borion, Pembrokeshire.

The paper goes on to describe what happen in Craig-y-Borion:

'The last wooden horse carried in Amroth was that of Miss ---- who had betrayed her trust as a Governess, with Mrs Severn of Great Craig-y-borion; the wooden horse proposed emanating from Mrs Severn and her lady companions in the district, who well paid the gang of men who in disguised attire carried the ladder around from Gt Craig-y-borion up around the Folly cross, thence to and through Amroth village, around Summer Hill to her home, or rather lodgings, at C.borion.'

'As a result, Mr Severn eloped with the Governess on the following day and never returned to Amroth again. This was about the year 1852. Several effigies have been burnt since in Amroth, the last being in Oct. 1892.'

Below is an account by Alun Morgan of how the ‘y ceffyl pren’ would have happened in Newton-Nottage.

The custom called ‘cwltrin’, also known as ‘coolstrin’ and ‘y ceffyl pren’ (the wooden horse) was so well known throughout Glamorgan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that there is little doubt it was performed in the parish of Newton-Nottage and so must be included in this book. It was an effective cure for a nagging or bulling wife and the treatment was carried out by the entire village. This is how it worked:

If a husband considered himself badly treated by his spouse he had a right to complain to the elders. The elders (being men) would give him a sympathetic hearing and, if they considered the man to have made out a case, would then form themselves into a ‘court’, complete with judge. The judge, wearing the collar-bone of a horse on his head and bedecked with a quilted eiderdown would then lead the ‘officers’, armed with long white wands, and any of the other villagers who wished to take part, to the home of the quarrelling couple. There they would have a full debate on the subject. Sometimes tow men would impersonate the husband and wife, the ‘husband’ carrying a broom and the ‘wife’ a ladle. They would have a set-to with their implements and, if blood was drawn, the man impersonating the wife was dragged around the village on a roughly made wooden horse. This was proof of the wife’s guilt made plain for the entire community to see. The crowd would then hoist two standards in the air on long poles; a petticoat and a pair of breeches, and would then return to the house to dispute. There the petticoat was pelted with rotten eggs and fruit and, when completely torn and bedraggled, was replaced by the triumphant breeches. This ended the treatment and from then on the wife was expected to reform.

Unfortunately no records exist which would enlighten us as to how effective and long-lasting the treatment was but some of the wives of the parish of Newton-Nottage must have been veritable viragos is shown in Redwood’s Vale of Glamorgan, first published in 1839.
In an account of a cwltrin ceremony described in that book the villager appointed as judge relates:
‘There, you see! What with their (the women’s) glavering and coaxing, we (the men) are in a perilous condition! And I only wonder how the world has gone on so long without their kicking us right out of it. You know, neighbours, what the old people, and they were no fools, used to say about the stones of Newton Down: that in the moon the women, in their vagaries turned upon men, when she was at the full, and flung them right down; and that they turned to stones as they fell, and pitched there, to be a constant warning to us.’ 

Now we known why there are so many stones on Newton Down.

Illustration by Margaret Wooding

Source of the papers of Mathias Family

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