Fern Hill

On the reverse of a painting in Fernhill house there are notes about its history - 'Fernhill house was built by Dennis Fairchild about 1827-30'. The Census of 1841 tells us that Dennis was aged 45, of independent means, and lived here with his wife, Martha (45); Ann Middleton (75, and also of independent means); and a servant, Susan Jenkins (30). On the Tithe Map (1842) the house is smaller than the present house and there are just a few tracks leading into the gardens.

In 1855 Dennis Fairchild sold Fernhill to Alfred Henry Stiles of Bristol, who sold it in 1861 to Catherine Ann Hurt Peel and Edmund Yates Peel. Successful and wealthy people arrived in Laugharne during Victoria's reign, and the Hurt Peels were a family of Nottingham lace makers who also bought farmland to the north-west of the township.

Edith Annie Hurt Peel was born in Laugharne in 1861. An 1889 map shows the house had been extended and the gardens developed with tracks or walkways through the woodlands.

By 1891 Edmund William Hurt Peel lived here with his wife, Minnie and their three boys - Francis (8), Neville (7) and Ralph (4) - his mother-in-law, Ellen C Hurt and sister-in-law, Edith M Hurt as well as a cook, a housemaid and a nurse.

Edmund committed suicide in 1905, aged only 46, - shooting himself on the drive - leaving Minnie to raise the family, including a young daughter, Dulcie, born on New Year's Day, 1901. A Miss Allen is recorded as saying, 'The poor man had an awful lot of worry on his mind'.

Early in the first world war Mrs Minnie Peel was busy collecting fruit and vegetables from the area, which she delivered personally to the 4th Welsh at Dale, with the assistance of Mrs Bolton (Fullerton) in her motor car.

Her own son, William Neville Hurt Peel, had just enlisted in Canada into the 8th Battalion, C.E.F. and Mrs Bolton had two sons at war: John was a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery; and Stuart was at sea aboard HMS Indefatigable. Sadly none of the three sons survived the war.

Minnie actively supported the incoming Belgian refugees, served on the organising committee as treasurer, made gifts of clothing, and actively welcoming their arrival. She organised a New Year 'social' in 1915 to raise the money to purchase wool for knitting garments for soldiers and sailors and organised the distribution of the garments produced. Later that year she organised a garden party to raise more funds and served on the committee to raise money for the Soldiers and Sailors fund.

Neville Hurt Peel, or 'Willie' as he was also known, was born in February 1884, the middle of three brothers (pictured above - Neville on the left). Public school educated with rugby on the syllabus, their father, Edmund, a founder of Laugharne Rugby team encouraged them to play.

They gained a reputation as 'a bit wild', and this photo taken with their mother Minnie suggests by their poses that they sported independent characters at a time when deference to elders and authority was far stronger than today.

A later photo, taken around 1902, shows Neville fondly holding his baby sister, Dulcie. Sometime after this he reputedly eloped with a girl from a travelling circus. His brother Francis joined the South African Mounted Police and Ralph emigrated to Canada.

Neville's records show that he served in the army in Africa and eventually ended up in Canada, where he became a teamster (or truck driver) in Winnipeg, married to a Harriet Ann Peel.

At the outbreak of WW1 Canada recruited a volunteer army, who, following extensive training, joined the battlefields in France early in 1915. Neville was 30 at the start of war, but eventually the need for more recruits led to him also joining up.

In February 1916 he joined the 8th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which became involved in active fighting on the War front, notably the Second Battle of the Scarpe and the Attack on the Arleux Loop, near Arras, between 23-28 April 1917.

Reported as missing in action on the 28th April 1917, it was nearly a month of uncertainty before he was confirmed as killed in action. His grave lies in Orchard Dump cemetery, 5 miles N.E. of Arras.

Tirelessly, and having lost her favourite son, Minnie Hurt Peel continued to organise fund-raising events such as the Rose Day in aid of Carmarthen Infirmary. As time went on and evidence of poverty grew among the people of Laugharne she joined other philanthropists to raise cash and gifts for the poor of Laugharne. Minnie Peel helped impoverished families, well before the Welfare State and founded Peel's Christmas Club, encouraging families to save.

She became known as 'The Queen Of Laugharne' and died in 1938. She is buried in St Martin's Church graveyard.

Dulcie Hurt Peel in the centre -
a much-loved Laugharne nurse

Fern Hill overlooking the Grist
in 1950 - Dylan's era

Just outside the grounds of Fern Hill is Deadman's Lane, named after the fighting during the Civil War where the blood of slain soldiers flowed down it 'like a river'.

One of Dylan's most famous poems is about Fern Hill, but it's not this one. The Fern Hill (below) of Dylan's childhood is just off the road near Llanstephan.

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