While sorting through records at Abercamlais, we were fascinated to find a letter from a Mr D.C. Reid to Garnons Williams dated 28th August 1899 and sent from Segowli, India.
The letter refers to the rental of a house called Llwyncyntefin, which was once part of the Abercamlais estate. Llwyncyntefin dates from the 16th /17th Century and is a situated on the northern edge of Sennybridge. The house was built in 1634 for Rev Hugh Penry, whose arms are set above the porch door.
In the letter Mr Reid explains that due to the failure of the Indigo crop in India that year, he is unable to continue renting Llwyncyntefin and wishes to end the tenancy.
The text of the letter reads as follows:
Dear Garnons Williams
I have now with regret to give notice of the termination of our occupancy of Llwyncyntefin from March 1300.
This year has been disastrous for Indigo form the most extraordinarily heavy and continuous rain of 70 to 80 inches in 3 months and prices are poor besides. This when we started with a heavy crop. The truth is the industry is entirely depressed and I’ll never have £900 a year to spend at the Llwyn.
Part of the furniture we’ll sell and the rest will be stored at Bristol. I f we live to go home our intention is to settle in South Devon by Seaton, which as a comparatively dry spot by the sea and from where some of our friends come.
The Herbert Williams girls left us with the hope of returning in the cold weather when the District is gay; but I am afraid in the present state of affairs the gaiety will be feeble when ruin stares so many of us in the face. Indeed it is wonderful to me how light-hearted we are. With ponies bought in better days we are practising busily for a polo tournament, I being by about 20 years the oldest person on the teams.
With kind regards to Lilian and remembrances to the Baba if he can go back to our time I am
Indigo was a dye made from the Indigofera plant native to the Tropics and cultivated for thousands of years. It was used in the manufacture of goods such as textiles (most notably in the work of William Morris) and paints. Indigo plantations were very profitable and were encouraged by the English in their Colonies, particularly in India. British men such as D. C. Reid travelled to India to become plantation owners or managers. Natural indigo was the only source of the dye until the turn of the century when it was gradually replaced by synthetic indigo and today nearly all indigo produced is synthetic.
The Indigo plantation of Lalseriah, where D.C. Reid was based and from where the letter is addressed, was particularly well-known. It is discussed in the following excerpt from Bengal and Assam, Behar and Orissa: Their History, People, Commerce, and Industrial Resources (1917) and Mr Reid is also referred to.
An indigo concern was started in or about the year 1823 upon this estate, situated near Segowlie, in the district of Chaniparan when a Mr. James Hills built a factory there as an outwork of Turcowlia. 3000 acres were then devoted to this plant; but disaster followed upon disaster, and the property was sold to a Mr. George Falkner, who commenced dealing in hides and skins.
The cultivation of indigo was resumed in the year 1840 by Mr. Oman, and about fifteen years later the concern passed into the hands of Messrs. Kenneth MacLeod. Mr. MacLeod is referenced as one of the most gallant and successful of the legion of good sportsmen who held their annual festive gatherings at the time of the great fair in that village. At one time he owned about sixty horses, and, after training them on his own track, he frequently rode them himself. The estate now comprises 29,000 acres, which, with the exception of 600 acres retained by the owners, are leased. Among a wealth of fine old trees is the attractive bungalow, and in front of it are well-kept lawns, which slope gently down to a pretty lake upon whose waters the inmates of the residence are able to obtain enjoyment in sailing their boats.
Mr. C. G. Lees is general manager over the whole estate, including the out- work at Madhupur and he usually employs about 100 Indian hands, and James Cox, for whom Lewis Cosserat was manager. This gentleman was in charge at the time of the Mutiny in 1857, when the 12th Irregular Cavalry killed their commanding officer, Colonel Holmes, and his wife and other Europeans (including the regimental medical officer), and he saw the murderers pass Lalseriah shortly after the black deed had been committed, although he knew nothing of the occurrence at that time.
The present proprietors (who have retired from active control) are Messrs. Donald Reid and James J. MacLeod, the latter being widely known as the “King of Champaran.” Mr. Harry Abbott, in his “Reminiscences of Sonepore,” makes native tenants. Home cultivation consists chiefly of oats and Indian corn, in about equal proportions, indigo having been given up entirely two years ago. This is worked well but not irrigated, as there is a regular and sufficient supply of water, and the average annual yield of these crops is eminently satisfactory. The greater portion of the oats is sold to the military authorities in the neighbourhood, while the Indian corn is disposed of locally.
The outbuildings are particularly substantial and commodious, and the large steeping vats silently testify to the busy seasons when the manufacture of indigo was a prime factor in the concern.