Tag Archives: Aneurin Bevan Memorial

A to Z of Statues – C is for Tommy Cooper

When I was at Cardiff University in 1972 to 1975 I used to regularly take the train on the Welsh valley line to nearby Caerphilly. I used to like Caerphilly, especially the castle.

I didn’t know then that it was the birthplace of the comedian magician Tommy Cooper who was born there in 1921.

Hands up if you knew Tommy Cooper was born in Wales.  Overseas readers are excused the exercise.

After leaving University I didn’t return to Caerphilly until I visited the town with my travelling pal Dai Woosnam in 2016, We weren’t looking for Tommy Cooper especially but came across his statue. Actually we were looking for a landmark commemorating another famous Welshman with an association with the town – Guto Nyth Brân.

Read The Full Story Here…

South Wales and the Hundred Greatest Britons

Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones South Wales

On the way home (the motorway route, I wasn’t going back along the Fosse way, for sure) we stopped off near Tredegar to visit a site that without my local travel guide pal I would never have heard of or even thought of visiting. The Aneurin Bevan Stones –  Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the UK National Health Service.

The memorial stands at Bryn Serth, just off the Heads of The Valley Road at a site used by the famous politician for open air public meetings. Symbolically, the central monolith represents Bevan himself, whilst three satellite stones represent his constituency towns of Ebbw Vale, Tredegar and Rhymney.


In a BBC poll of 2002 The Greatest Britons’, Bevan came forty-fifth out of a hundred and personally I think he deserved to come a bit higher than that, but let’s be honest how can you trust a poll of the people when Princess Diana came third ahead of Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare and Horatio Nelson.  She had no chance of beating Winston Churchill of course, but she is probably spinning in her grave at not pipping Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who had French parents) to come second.

It is an odd list, even Tony Blair gets in the top one hundred. Tony Blair?  What the? When it comes to Wales, Richard Burton is ninety-sixth, Lawrence of Arabia is fifty-second, David Lloyd-George only makes seventy-ninth but Owain Glyndŵr is as high up as twenty-third.  Owain Glyndŵr has been dead for seven hundred years and is surely irrelevant now – who on earth, I wonder voted for Owain Glyndŵr ahead of David Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan?  Bear in mind that this was a nationwide vote and 99% or so of the population of the UK have never heard of Owain Glyndŵr.  Possibly some vote rigging going on there do you think?

Owain Glyndŵr even came ahead of William Wallace and he had a film made about him starring Mel Gibson.  Rob Roy MacGregor didn’t get in and he had a film made about him starring Liam Neeson.  Which makes me think, if there was a film who could play Owain Glyndŵr?  Probably Mel Gibson, he seems to hate the English enough to take on the role!


To set the record straight however 100 Welsh Heroes was an opinion poll run in Wales as a response to the BBC’s 100 Greatest Britons poll and quite rightly Aneurin Bevan came top.  Owain Glyndŵr came second despite an accusation from Neil Kinnock (fifty-eighth) that Welsh Nationalists were multiple voting to try and manipulate the result.  Tom Jones came third, two places ahead of Richard Burton.  T.E.Lawrence came 52nd.  I don’t think we should take these polls too seriously – Catherine Zeta-Jones came thirteenth!

Anyway, back to the BBC poll where there were even more anomalies.   There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!

Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.

Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.  There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.

Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the Suffragist,  Millicent Fawcett, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.

At this time lots of other countries ran similar polls, some of the results were equally predictable, South Africa voted for Nelson Mandella, Spain for King Juan Carlos, Greece choose Alexander the Great and, ignoring politics, Italy went for Leonardo Da Vinci.  Some results were less obvious, in France there was surely someone more famous than Charles de Gaulle (Louis XIV perhaps) and Germany overlooked Otto Von Bismarck and Martin Luther and choose Konrad Adenaur.

My favourite is Canada, where, despite being the second largest country in the World, there are so few famous people to choose from that the long list was restricted to fifty and the top ten included three Scots, the public voted for a man called Tommy Douglas!  In Australia the newspaper ‘The Australian’ selected Andrew ‘Banjo’ Patterson who pushed the World’s greatest ever cricketer, Don Bradman, into second place.


It had been a good few days in South Wales, before we went I thought I knew something about it but as I drove home I realised that if my pal has a bucketful of knowledge mine would barely cover the bottom of a thimble.

We took my preferred motorway route and where I was pleased that there were no incidents or queues my friend was just as disappointed that there were no hold-ups because I was acutely aware that he was just itching to say  ‘I told you so, we should have taken the Fosse Way!’

South Wales, The Rhondda Valleys and More Graveyards


Eventually we reached the elevated village of Llanwonno and my fears were realised – it was indeed another church yard that we were about to visit.

Who was buried here I wondered, who was so famous that it was worth making this driving detour up the side of a mountain?  As we walked from the car park to the church my friend told me the story of Guto Nyth Brân who, legend has it, was the fastest running man ever in the World.

Local folklore said he could run quickly enough to catch hares and foxes and birds in flight.  If his mother ran out of milk for a cup of tea he could  run to the local shop there and back, five miles away, before the kettle boiled.  I assume of course that he must have had the right change on him at the till with no fiddling about in his pockets or his purse for that elusive penny!

As stories of his running speed spread through the Valleys he was regularly challenged to competitive races on which substantial bets were placed.

His first race, organised by his girlfriend and business partner, Sian the Shop (not to be mistaken with Sean the Sheep saw him take on a previously unbeaten English runner. He won the race easily as well as £400 prize money.  A huge amount of money in those days, equivalent to roughly £50,000 today !  He continued to race and accumulate a fortune until he was thirty.

He was so famous that had there been television in the eighteenth century then he would surely have won BBC Sports Personality of the Year and the USA Sports Illustrated  Sportsperson of the Year Award.


After a while he retired (he could afford it) but when he was thirty-seven Sian the Shop persuaded him as a matter of pride and principle to come out of retirement and take on a new runner called the Prince of Bedwas who was boasting that he was unbeatable. This was for a prize of one thousand guineas (a hundred and fifty thousand pounds) and on account of the huge prize money on offer it was to be an appropriately gruelling twelve-mile race between Newport and Bedwas near to the town of Caerphilly and for most of the way a steady climb from sea level to seventy metres or so with an especially challenging final hill.

Guto won easily of course, completing the course in fifty-three minutes.

To put that into some sort of perspective the current official IAAF world record for a half marathon (roughly the same distance)  is fifty-seven minutes and thirty-two seconds set by Kibiwott Kandle of Kenya in December 2020 at the Valencia half marathon in Spain.  I realise that the timing of races might now be considerably more precise than it was three hundred years ago but today athletes have Nike running shoes and fitness management support staff and five minutes is a lot to explain away even by time-keeping inaccuracies of such great margins.

Sadly the story ended in tragedy after Sian slapped him on the back so hard in celebration Guto suffered a heart attack and collapsed and died.  Some girlfriend hey!

Every year there is now a road race in nearby Mountain Ash to commemorate the life and achievement of Guto Nyth Brân.

There was disappointment for us too this afternoon because the Church was having its roof replaced and to protect the gravestone from potential damage from falling masonry it was fully encased in a plywood box to protect it and on it was pinned a short note apologising for the inconvenience.  You would have thought that they could at the very least have put up some sort of replica or included a picture!


I couldn’t help but laugh and my travelling companion saw the funny side of it as well.  He likes gravestones and monuments and plaques and struggles to understand why I don’t share his enthusiasm for them.  I explained that as a history student I like stories and facts but I don’t really get any sort of adrenalin rush from seeing where famous people were born or are buried.

The following day we drove to the town of Caerphilly where he had learned about a memorial plaque that had been erected in another churchyard to commemorate Guto Nyth Brân and the finishing point of his famous last race so we set out to find it.

It was there right enough but what a shame it wasn’t covered up in embarrassment with a sheet of securely nailed, solid plywood, maybe two, just in case the first one falls off  (a real double-bagger this one) because in respect of both content and design I nominate this memorial plaque to be, without fear of contradiction, the worst that I have ever, ever seen…

Guto Nyth Brân Memorial Stone Caerphilly