A tribute to Islwyn His contribution to Knighton and beyond

Your editor recently met Ken Harris at Malvern U3A’s family history group, after a presentation by me which mentioned in passing cousin Islwyn Watkins. Here is the resulting tribute from Ken to his old friend.

A fellow South Walesian

Islwyn and I were friends virtually from the time I arrived in Knighton in 1985. Both being from South Wales, we immediately struck a rapport and later, when his father arrived to live with Dwynwen, he and I struck up a similar rapport and friendship.

IW’s – Offa’s Dyke Antiques – was on the corner of West Street and High Street leading up to the Narrows. It was housed in a building previously the Chandos Temperance Hotel. The whole building was owned by Mr. Machin who ran a Butcher’s Shop in the other corner on West Street itself.

The Knighton museum project begins

Mr. Machin had no relatives and in his Will he bequeathed a sum of money to help set up Knighton Museum and to safeguard the money, with the solicitor’s approval, Islwyn and I became the Founder Members of the Knighton Museum Trustees attracting a number of suitable, interested others – most of this recruitment was down to IW.

IW had moved a little further up the High Street and held a long lease so whenever the new premises changed hands he remained a Sitting Tenant. Even when his working days were to end, he intended that the shop could be used as the initial Museum and that the Lease should move to the Museum Trustees. He and I, with others, viewed a number of possible venues but we couldn’t obtain the necessary funding in time to meet Sellers’ deadlines.

I resigned my Trusteeship around 2012 due to changed personal circumstances and because I intended to move away from Knighton which I eventually did. New people joined the Museum Trustees and more recently they have established a successful Museum in another shop facing IW’s original premises.

Islwyn in creative mode – The Brecon Column at an early stage of construction (detail, 1994).

More Museum monies

After IW and I had set-up the Museum Group, someone in Market Street died and he left his house contents to IW. This man had had a hobby of Woodturning and together with IW we organized a sale of his items in the Church Hall with the proceeds going into the Museum Account. Items not sold that night were retained by IW and he continued selling them from his shop for the benefit of the Museum. Also, when he sold his own Antiques or Art he donated a % to the Museum Account.

Before the present Museum opened, IW organized displays in West Street Library – now closed.

Historic Knighton

In 2000, a Knighton Group organized a Mediaeval Festival over a number of days including a Re-enactment Encampment. Numerous activities took place and I have Press photographs (files somewhere and still not found – my motto now is Never Move House) showing IW and I, plus others, suitably dressed. I shall keep looking for these.

The Town Forum organized the installation of an Obelisk in the Narrows to mark the opening of Owain Glyndwr’s Way as a National Trail. It started at Knighton, ran across country to Machynlleth and then onto Welshpool. IW was involved with the Obelisk idea. Together with the late Lord Richard Livsey (former MP for Brecon and Radnorshire) I did a sponsored walk along OGW in aid of the Children’s Hospital in Cardiff and for BackCare – an organization for which I worked) from Felindre in the Upper Teme Valley and back to Knighton – some 14 miles. On arrival back at Knighton, there was IW waiting to welcome us and I have a photograph of this to hand.

Keen to take pArt

Knighton currently involves itself in Hereford’s Take pART but this started in Knighton as Knighton Take pART, for which IW was a leading organizer. He and I placed many Posters in a wide radius of Knighton going as far afield into England as Craven Arms, Ludlow and Mortimer’s Cross. Linked to the first Take pART, IW hired a large white van from Ludlow and I went with him to somewhere near or in Wolverhampton/Dudley to borrow a very large and heavy folding wardrobe-type show cabinet in which were shelves of different proportions and on which were displayed pieces of Art Work of all descriptions.

Islwyn’s hidden activism

IW had many contacts on whom he could call for, and provide, mutual help. He had plenty of well-connected visitors to his shop including the Right Hon Kenneth Clarke, former MP, who visited when he stayed with a prominent family at Brampton Bryan in North Herefordshire.

When I find the aforementioned photographs and the article that appeared in Glamorgan Family History, I shall let you have them.

IW did lots for Knighton often not appreciated as many viewed him as ‘a character’ but he supported so many things. I hope the foregoing a something of a tribute to him.

Ken Harris, 13th January 2020


  1. Also see the Cutlock obituary and appreciation for Islwyn Watkins.
  2. Knighton Museum web page.

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