Tag Archives: Chris Dignam

The Amman Valley Bubble

(Professor Crafty d’Og’s article on the the scandal of the Amman & Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise, with a surprising link to the settlement of Welsh Patagonia)

The Amman Valley Bubble (The Chutney that never was)

Chutneys are always today considered to be an introduction from the great Indian sub-continent – they were indeed being imported from there in large quantities by the early nineteenth century, any gaps in the ships being filled up with leaf tea.  This lack of a local chutney was largely due to the great difficulty in reaching the Welsh chutney seams which, at over 200 feet, were too deep to safely reach with existing technology[1] .  British chutneys had long been extracted from the small bell-pits of the south-east of England but this had been of the Piccalilli variety[2].  Though Kent chutney was popular, it was not universally so.  The demand for chutneys led to their import from the far east (even further east than East Anglia), but because of the long sea journeys that involved[3], there was a desire for a home-grown chutney, so to speak.  There had been some Welsh chutney mining during the late eighteenth century as the beds of mango of the Amman valley had been exploited due to their closeness to the surface.  It’s popularity and scarcity led to its early demise, and the trade was blighted by the Amman Valley Bubble scandal of the 1820’s. 

The scandal (in reality, a tremendous fraud) began when rumours of a great find of an easily accessible hot chutney (supposedly a chilli one) spread like hot butter across Wales.  Almost immediately a company emerged, the Amman and Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise, who proposed to exploit the outcrop (so near the surface, they said, that it was dripping into a local stream).  They issued shares in this rich chutney seam, the price of which rocketed as everyone wanted a slice of the chutney pie (excuse the mixed metaphors).  The company bought a stretch of the foothills of the Black Mountain (paid for in shares) and had even started clearing trees and scrub for a tramroad that was to take the chutney in wagons to the coast.  The day before the ground was due to be broken to open a tunnel for a drift mine, the samples of chutney that had gone to be assayed in Cardiff were discovered to be merely a jam mixed with peppers[4].  The telegraph lines went berserk as messages flew back from Cardiff about the worthless so-called chutney.  Customs officers sped to the site and arrived in Glanamman only to find the mine buildings abandoned.  The owners had taken all their money from the bank in Ammanford (still then known as Cross Inn) that morning and had fled. 

There followed a desperate chase across Carmarthenshire, horse-borne customs officers racing after two stage coaches of Amman and Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise “managers”. They nearly caught up with them at Llandybie but were held up by a drover taking sheep to Llandeilo market.  The ship (called ‘The Golden Duck’) with the fraudsters on board was just leaving Kidwelly docks as the customs men arrived at the waterside, only to watch them sailing into the sunset with the shareholders money.  The shares which so many people had bought were worth absolutely nothing.  As can be imagined, the reputation of the Amman Valley chutney industry was tainted for many years and held up its development, to the great advantage of the Jam and Marmalade magnates who bought up huge parts of the valley for next to nothing[5]

It is alleged that the ship with the fraudsters on board landed in South America, and that it was one of them that sold land rights in the Chubut Valley in Patagonia to fellow Welshmen who arrived later in the century in search of a better life[6].  They had been told by this fraudster that not only was the land rich with honey, but with jam and marmalade too.  Another of these fraudsters (he preferred to be called an entrepreneur) tried to establish a trade taking Welsh emigres to Patagonia, then filling the ship up with lamas to take back to Wales.  It was only partly successful.

It would not be until the 1850’s when new technology and the fading of the scandal into distant memory allowed for the expansion of the Amman Valley chutney industry, with the problems inherent in that.

[1] There had been some attempts to make 200 feet long ladders, notably by David Thomas, known as “Dai the Saw”, but there were problems finding trees tall enough, and then the difficulty in 2 men walking a 200 foot ladder along the turnpike roads without encountering the odd speeding wayward carriage (“Engineering and Carpentry of the South Wales Valleys”, E.V. Jones; Swanseashire University Press, 1986, p 28-35

[2] Notably round Sevenoaks, named after a “Stephen Nokes” who founded the village in the early 1250’s to provide housing and processing space for the 12 bell pits around the area (, “The Kent Jamboree”, Professor H. Higgins, Kent Free Press, 1953, p 15-64

[3] The introduction of the Chutney Cutter (much like their cousin the Tea Cutter) was not for another half a century.  This would have cut the journey time drastically, and was another of the causes of the later slump in Welsh chutney production. “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958

[4] See “The Cambrian Daily”, 14 July 1828,  Swansea, for a front page article on the discovery, as well as testimony of residents of Glanamman, and of Kidwelly who saw the later flight of the fraudsters.

[5] “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958

[6] Evan Meredith, an émigré from Merthyr Tydful, wrote in his memoirs of meeting a “very nice man, if a bit swarthy, of our own old country and tongue” at a bar in Buenos Aires who told him about the wonderful lush grass, and flowing streams of Patagonia that reminded him of his native Carmarthenshire.  He had also spoken about being able to put your hands in the soil and pull out handfuls of fresh marmalade, that needed very little processing. Naturally Evan took him at his word and bought the deeds to 20 acres of what turned out to be pampas.  Fine for cattle but not for preserves. “From Porth to Puerto Madryn; My Life in Patagonia”, translated by D.C. Jones, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXXIX, August 1967

The Jam & Marmalade Industry in Swanseashire

An extract from a treatise by Professor CD Crafty-D’Og on the famous mining industry of the Swanseashire Valley and its environs, including the Chutney workings of the Amman Valley.

The story of South Wales is one that revolves around its mineral wealth; naturally everyone thinks of the coal, iron ore and even, to a lesser extent, silver and gold.  The rich seams of coal on which the industrial revolution was built are only matched by the equally thick beds of the pre-cambrian preserves, which outcrop across the area, most notably around Swanseashire.  Everyone has heard about the treacle mines of Lancashire on which the Eccles cake industry was built but just as important are the seams of jam found in the hills around Crafty Dog Towers.  The history of jam, chutney and marmalade extraction in the county of Swanseashire is believed to go back many centuries. 

In the 1870’s the skeleton of what was thought to be a female from the stone age was found in a cave on the Gower peninsula.  This “Red Lady of Paviland” was coloured in what was thought to be red ochre.  This has now been corrected; the skeleton was indeed from the neolithic period, but was a young man and the colouring was a red preserve, believed to be either strawberry or redcurrant jam.  The strawberry jam seam that outcrops west of Swansea (the famous three feet sweet deposit) made many landowners rich in the middle ages; whereas the Cotswolds had sheep and wool, medieval Swansea had strawberry jam and preserves.  In fact, it has been suggested that the main reason that the Romans came to Britain was to tap into the jam and marmalade deposits they had heard legends of.  Professor Theophilus Jones[1] has postulated in his book on Greek and Roman folk tales that the Golden Fleece was not one full of gold dust but of a yellow marmalade, probably lemon and lime. 

Where the jam came to the surface there, inevitably, was a share cropper scrabbling for a living from a preserve mine, digging out small quantities of jam or, if it was the 2ft Bleddyn seam, marmalade.  These small jam-mine owners made money but it wasn’t easy selling their products in small wooden jars which were hand-carved in cottages across Swanseashire.  During the middle ages more enterprising (or possibly gullible) marmalade producers worked with the cottage industries that produced flannel and wool and made small lined bags to put their product in (due to a few obvious design issues these soggy bags never really caught on).  In the 1750’s the Swanseashire potteries started making ceramic pots and at the same time a number of mine owners consolidated their businesses by buying out their smaller competitors.  With this industrial revolution (or “Jamolution” as writers on Industrial South Wales have called it[2]) some of these jam owners became jam magnates.  The Swansea Canal was built not only to move coal down the valley to the docks but also long barges of preserves, which initially went round Britain but later, the world.   Nelson fought the Battle of Trafalgar after a breakfast of Swanseashire Lime Marmalade on toast, and it has been recorded that Napoleon Bonaparte was partial to Swanseashire plum jam on his croissants[3].  It was General Picton who on the Waterloo Campaign introduced Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, to the wonders of Swanseashire preserves[4]

As the price of Swanseashire pottery rocketed due to the popularity of Swansea porcelain it created another crisis in the South Wales preserves business – the pottery jars were just no longer available.   The woollen industry smelled money and dusted out the patterns of the soggy pre-industrial marmalade bags, but another entrepreneur in the English midlands came forward with the first glass jam jar.  The Welsh woollen industry switched back to socks and blankets and the glassworks around Stourbridge boomed.

Chutneys are always considered to be an introduction from the great Indian sub-continent, and they were being imported from there in large quantities by the early nineteenth century.  This lack of a local chutney was largely due to the difficulty in reaching the Welsh chutney seams which were too deep to reach with existing technology.  British chutneys had long been extracted from the small bell-pits of the south-east of England but this had been of the Picallilly variety.  Though it was popular, it was not universally so.  There had been some Welsh chutney during the late eighteenth century as the beds of mango of the Amman valley had been exploited due to their closeness to the surface.  It’s popularity and scarcity led to its early demise, as the trade never really recovered from the Amman Valley Bubble scandal of the 1790’s. 

Amongst rumours of a great find of an easily accessible hot chutney (supposedly a chilli one) a fake company sold shares in this rich chutney seam.  The company bought a stretch of the Black Mountain and had even started clearing trees and scrub for a tramroad to take the chutney in wagons to the coast.  Just as the ground was due to be broken to open up a tunnel for a drift mine, the samples that had gone to be tested were discovered to be a jam mixed with peppers.  Customs officers sped to the site and arrived only to find the mine abandoned.  There followed a desperate chase across Carmarthenshire, horse-borne customs officers racing after two stage coaches of Amman Valley Chutney Company “managers”. The ship with the fraudsters on was just leaving Kidwelly docks as the customs men arrived at the waterside, only to watch them sailing into the sunset with the shareholders money.  The shares which so many people had bought were worth absolutely nothing, a scandal which stunted the Welsh chutney mining industry for many years[5]

Borrowing from technology derived from coal mining in the 1850s a pioneering engineer sank a deep mine into a legendary seam of mixed mango and red onion chutneys.  Far cheaper than importing Chutney from India, it made it available for the first time to the working man.  This was the making of the upper Amman valley; the number of workers from West Wales (3000), South West England (2000), and Ireland (3,000) working in the deep chutney mines that mushroomed across the area meant that the small village of Afonamman that had been a farm of 8 people in 1750, grew to 250 in 1810 and 14,0000 by 1875, nearly all employed in chutney mining.  The town of Afonamman boomed, with over 12 chutney mines along the hill on both sides of the River Amman.  The large number of miners, and their families, had money to spend and so emerged the many public houses and places of ill-repute where lonely miners would exchange money, or a pocketful of rough-uncut chutney for a strong drink or a stronger woman.  The Wild-west of the Amman Valley was a dangerous place until the local police force bravely opened three police stations to try and establish a modicum of law and order.  In the wilder parts of the hills were bands of ne’er do wells, known as Shrub Rangers, some of whom have gone down in history.  Dai Kelly[6], Beefy Casserole, the Sundown Kid, and the “Hole-in-the-Dry-Stone-Wall Gang”.  Just as famous was the argument over two buckets of Spiced Tomato Chutney that led to the shootout that killed 6 of the outlaws and 3 of the police, the Gunfight at the Not-So-Bad Sheep Farm.  They were dangerous times, until the ‘Revival’ of the 1860’s, which brought Methodism and God to the area; there may have been sixty pubs, but by then there were also 60 chapels and 60 Wesleyan, Calvinistic Methodist, Baptist and Welsh-Independent ministers.  As the first preachers spoke fire and brimstone from their pulpits the last of the Shrub Rangers melted into the mists of time.

In Swanseashire the jams and marmalades made many rich, and in the neighbouring Amman Valley the chutney mines also created great wealth[7].  The world cried out for the preserves of South Wales, especially so after the secret was found for exporting Welsh chutneys and preserves to the hotter climates of the world.  There had been a request by the British Government to find a way of producing preserves that could withstand the long boat journey to the far-flung parts of the world still painted pink on the map (which we now know as The Commonwealth).  This is how the first batches of “India Pale Mango Chutney” came about, varieties that South Wales sent to India rather like coals to Newcastle.

The Swanseashire Preserves were so important to the morale of troops in the South African Wars (the 24th Foot, based at Brecon who later became the South Wales Borderers were particularly fond of Peach & Ginger Jam[8]) and pots of Swansea Strawberry and Raspberry Jams with Queen Victoria’s face on were some of the first items smuggled in to break the Siege of Ladysmith. Even in the muddy, wet trenches of the Western Front in World War 1 the Welsh soldiers were consoled by pots of Swanseashire Marmalades and Amman Valley Chutneys, wrapped in thick flannel scarves to keep the soldiers warm. 

The great depression of the 1920’s and 30’s hammered the area economically and socially; it led to the closure of the coal mines and the neighbouring preserves mines, the laying off of countless colliers and preserves diggers.  Numerous of the smaller companies never reopened, and others staggered on, yet in decline only to fizzle out in the 1960’s.  Today if you walk along the hillsides you will see the remains of buildings and mine workings once bustling with life.  Where Orange Marmalade emerged by the tramload, bracken and bramble grows, where raw jam was processed in the washery, sheep now graze (and the occasional lama[9]).  After World War 2, cheap imports, and the availability of even cheaper artificial preserves made from fruit and vegetables virtually killed off Jam and Marmalade mining, and even the once thriving Chutney business shrank to merely a trickle.  Today there are only one or two small mines who literally extract a few buckets of raw product by hand, and process the conserve in cottages, rather like they did in the pre-industrial era.  If you venture into local craft shops and markets you may be lucky enough to buy a jar or two of hand-dug and cooked preserve’s, fresh from the hillsides of Swanseashire.  Beware any pale imitations!

[1] In the earliest tales the fleece is referred to as being Golden and Unctuous, and later translations from the Ancient Greek are wrong in thinking this means Gold and Heavy. T.J. Jones, “Honey & Fruit Spreads in the Ancient World”, Morriston University Press, 1979

[2] Higgins & Smith, “South Wales in the 18th Century; Jam, Marmalade and Revolution”, Thrumble Books, London, 1968.

[3] P. Lafayette, “The Diaries of Napoleon Bonaparte; Volume 2 – Breakfasts that Conquered Europe”, Librarie d’Evreux, 1956.

[4] Picton was offering the Duke a sandwich when he had his leg blown off, leading to the famous exchange; “I seem to have lost my orange marmalade on toast”, to which the Duke replied, “Indeed you did sir.  I suppose I will have to have cheese.”

[5] The boat was one of the first to arrive in Chile, where the fleeing fraudsters became some of the earliest settlers in Patagonia, hiding from the long-arm of the Customs & Excise.  Higgins & Smith, “South Wales in the 18th Century; Jam, Marmalade and Revolution”, Thrumble Books, London, 1968, p 235-7.

[6] Dai Kelly was allegedly a (very) distant relative of the Australian Ned Kelly.  He is known for his holding up the mail coach outside Pontamman, where he wore an enamelled chamber-pot on his head, and a very thick flannel vest which he believed made him bulletproof.  There were two flaws in his plan; the flannel was grade 3 and not thick enough (especially without a woollen under-vest), and he had forgotten to drill holes in the chamber pot so he could not see very well – only his feet.  Challenged by the local police constable (Evan Evans, known as Evans the Law), he turned to flee and fell over a parked sheep.  He only served 18 months hard-labour in Ponty Prison, due to the Judge, Justice Hugh Andcray, saying that he had made him laugh more than he had in years.  Kelly ended his days running a pub in the Orkneys. Crispin O’Dowd, “Wild Wales and the Kelly Gang”, Pembrokeshire Free Press, 1985.

[7] Of all the millionaires in Wales in the 1890’s, 1/3 were from the Amman Valley and had a finger or two in the Chutney and Preserves industry. “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958.

[8] At Rorke’s Drift in 1879, contrary to previous reports, it was wooden jam crates that were used to build the redoubt and firing steps that sheltered the soldiers from the Zulu’s toward the end of the battle. “The Washing of the Jam Spoons”, Thrumble Books, London, 1964. P. 154-170 gives a full account of the battle, including the breakfast order of the leaders of the British soldiers.  JRM Chard, Royal Engineers, preferred a Lime Marmalade, though Bromhead was a traditional Peach & Ginger jam eater.  Both preferred toast to army biscuits.

[9] Llewelyn Proudfoot-Rees sold his Marmalade rights to a London company in 1952 and bought four llamas from a travelling zoo.  He hoped to establish a knitting factory but it never came to fruition.  Now small herds of these South American ungulates can be seen in the local hills wandering across the Welsh pampas.

Greyhounds make the best pets!

Or how we found out the magic of the pointy-faced hound

Greyhound,greyhounds,greyhoundsaspets,greyhounds as pets, greyhound rescue,rescued greyhounds,rescued racers,photo of a greyhound,sally dignam,greyhound with toy,
Sally with her favourite toy, Bluey

This is Sally.   When we adopted her back in 1999, we didn’t know much greyhounds, apart from they were racing dogs who had retired and wanted a life after the track.  Sally taught us a lot, about how affectionate, clever, and funny they were, how easily they fitted into a home, and in Sal’s case, how much we’d get to know the local vet!  Greyhound rescue was still in its early years, and people would ask us loads of questions about how much exercise they needed, whether they were good with cats, why did they wear muzzles (are they vicious?).  We were able to reassure people and show them how wrong their old ideas were. 

Hound in the House, Greyhound rescue,greyhounds as pets,living with greyhounds,greyhounds make great pets,dogs as pets,pet dogs,pet dog,pet greyhound,my greyhound,rescued racers,
The cover of A Hound in the House – this was our Sally to a tee!

It was partly for this reason that I was prompted to write “A Hound in the House”, which told about life with our own hounds, and our fosters, and spread the word about greyhound rescue.  We also began to give talks to local groups about life with a greyhound, and people could actually meet a real ex-racer – it was surprising how many people had never come face to pointy face with one! 

Greyhound, Rubbish, The Largest Rabbit, Rabbit hound,chidren's animal books,animal books for children,bedtime stories for children,children's bedtime stories,greyhounds as pets,greyhounds of instagram,life with greyhounds,a greyhound,the greyhound,
The Largest Rabbit – my first Children’s book

How do you get children to learn about greyhounds, and how caring they are?  This is what brought about “The Largest Rabbit”, a book about an abandoned greyhound who learns who he is, and how important it is to belong and have someone believe in you.  I particularly enjoyed writing about the little hound who thinks his name is “Rubbish”, as that’s what the people called him.  It’s always great when the underdog wins – literally in his case. 

But don’t just take my word for it.  The books are available via your local amazon store, or if you’d like a signed and dedicated copy, they are available from our web shop or PM me.  Or maybe your local group would like to meet a real rescued greyhound and learn about how they’d make your life better?  PM us and we can arrange one of our greyhound talks.  Go on – you know you want to!

Gwennie,Gwennie Dignam,Gwennie Crafty Dog,The Crafty Dog,Crafty Dog Cymru,greyhoundsaspets,greyhound rescue,rescued greyhounds,rescued racing greyhounds,racing greyhounds,greyhound racing,greyhounds as pets,greyhounds make great pets,
How would you like to meet Gwennie?
largest rabbit, marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest Rabbit, greyhound rescue, Chris Dignam

Greyt Expectations – Rescued Greyhounds and Marmalade Cats

A Marmalade Cat?

This is a chapter from a book released a few years back called “Greyt Expectations – From Rescued Greyhounds to Marmalade Cats” and is a collection of the blog posts from here and the South Wales Evening Post pages, along with some other pieces about writing, music – and a marmalade cat called Jeffrey.  I hope that you enjoy it and feel free to tweet, reblog or share.

greyhound, Penny, Crafty Dog

What a Crafty Dog does on her day off.

If reading to children is the best fun you can have, making them laugh, making them gasp or even hide behind their hands in fear of the wicked fox or nasty hunter with his gun, the next best thing is sitting with a pen and paper, or a computer keyboard and dreaming up the characters themselves. Ideas for stories seem to come at the strangest times, usually when lying in bed at night, or out walking the dog when you have the space and time to empty your mind and let it ramble. Someone has said there are only three or four stories; everything else is just a variation on that. That might be true, but there is a heck of a lot of scope for that variation.

One evening driving home from work at local authority council offices I was stuck in a jam queuing on the slip road off the M4. As I listened to music I began to run some ideas around in my head. I wanted to write a book about a recued greyhound that would appeal to children but it needed a twist. The idea then changed to an abandoned puppy being left and brought up by other animals – I guess from the Tarzan idea, or even the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. Rabbits – who had never seen a puppy, and a puppy who had never seen rabbits seemed to work. I started roughing up some ideas that evening, and from the first lines about the speeding car and the flying sack I was away.

Within a day or so I had the first rabbit characters and that of the little hound but I did not have a name. It was a few days into the book when the little character told the rabbits that the humans said he was rubbish and that’s where his name came from – the little puppy named himself! So Rubbish the rabbit hound was born.
I was sketching ideas for a plot, something simple with a villain – a fox fitted naturally into this – and also a hero. Someone needed to be able to tell the little confused rabbit into the great secret, that he was not a rabbit at all but a dog, but it had to be done by a special character that everyone in the book could look up to, but especially the little Rubbish. A noble beast, a great hound was obviously the person we needed and just as the character was forming in the story, the idea of it being The Mighty Finn popped into my head.

How could they meet? Where? I remember reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and also seeing Tom’s Midnight Garden when I was a kid on children’s TV. Looking back now, I guess there was also The Herbs, an animated children’s programme which used to be on Watch with Mother, where there was a wall, and a door which opened into a mysterious garden. The red brick wall and green wooden door were here.

I had a hero, mentor, villain – even weasel henchmen for the villain – but no comic character. This was going to be interesting. Who would be a heroic but comic figure? This was a challenge and I mulled this over for a few days. I was sitting in the office, looking round the room and there, sitting on the exercise bike was an old cuddly toy I had bought for Armelle years ago when I had been in university – a dusty old Garfield. That was it – a dusty old ginger-marmalade cat sprang to life. A well-bred and distinguished moggie, I christened him Jeffrey. He was going to be heroic but flawed – courageous and devil-may-care, he was also very vain and self opinionated, His age meant that he would be a bit creaky – arthritic with a dodgy back, few teeth and bad breath. I now realise that Jeffrey had a lot in common with Tiger, a ginger moggie that Armelle had when I first met her. She too had few teeth, some bald patches, hayfever and was a very good age. I think there was more Tiger than Garfield in our Jeffrey.marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest RabbitThe Mighty Finn and Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat

Of all the characters, I love writing for Jeffrey. He is wonderful and things just happen to him; he is the reason that cat-slide roofs exist, was made for flying goggles and a woolly scarf and is crying out for a book of his own. When it came to the Hallowe’en story, Jeffrey was now known as “The Professor” and it was his genius that helped turn the tables on the ghosts. When I do book readings, the kids all love to hear about Jeffrey, and when I gave him his voice, those wonderful rounded vowels of this cat, owned by a retired Colonel who lives next door, it was very easy for him to take over.
The story wrote itself once I had the cast. I just followed where Rubbish, Finn and Jeffrey led, to be ambushed by the Fox but through the bravery of a little rabbit the tables are turned and the good guys win (as they always should in a children’s book).

The next book, The Winter Hare, was going to be a bit darker. Not intentionally, it just wrote itself that way. The influence of the Green Man, the Celtic Hare and the powers of nature were going to be the main elements here. The hunters chasing the hare hark back I guess to the hunters of Peter and the Wolf, but far, far darker. There they are trying to catch the hare – but why? In the dark shed we find out – a shelf full of animal bits, wood shavings and glass domes – taxidermy!
The darker the villains, the brighter the heroes have to become. Finn is probably his most noble in this story, and Rubbish is…just himself, but even more humorous, curious and wide-eyed.

Other cast members are the hunters dogs; two equally evil and terrible lurcher dogs with huge teeth and vicious appetites and tempers to match, and the third hound, a reluctant hunter called Flower. Her role – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out what transpires.

The final set of characters are the army of black and white that is marching towards climax of the book – the great showdown. They are an army of badgers. They might hark back to my days working for the National Trust in the 1980’s at Dinefwr Parc in South Wales. There were a number of badger setts in the deer park and I was lucky enough on a number of occasions to have sat and watched them playing outside in the warm red dusk of a summer’s evening. I was roped into taking part in the local village quiz tournament in the National Trust team. We eventually won the contest and the trophy still sits on our mantelpiece after all these years. The quiz-master for the series was Aeron Clement, a self-confessed Badger-nut who loved the black and white beasts – so much that he wrote a book about them, called “The Cold Moons”. It came out a few years afterwards and became a best seller. There may be a passing nod to Aeron in my characters. He was a lovely chap but unfortunately he did not enjoy his success for long as he passed away soon after it came out. He had written a sequel which was finished by his wife and daughter and it was also successful.

The Largest Rabbit is available digitally, as is the Christmas short story.  The Hallowe’en story “The Haunted Castle or Rubbish and the Hound of the Basquet de Villes” is also available on the blog pages here, and will be out again ready for this Hallowe’en.

The Christmas Story – How Rubbish the Rabbit Hound Saved Christmas – Download the whole story!

How Rubbish the Rabbit Hound Saved Christmas

The Whole Story!

Picture4We have had many requests to make the Christmas Story available to download – consider it a Christmas present from Crafty Dog Books!  It can be downloaded as a pdf file for you to read, already set out in book format.


Its free for you to download and share but not for publishing generally without our permission.  Click on the text below.








Christmas Story How Rubbish Saved Xmas C Dignam

Greyt Expectations 8 – This Weeks South Wales Evening Post Blog – How the Largest Rabbit Escaped into Print!

Getting it Write – from a Rescued Greyhound to the Largest Rabbit

Last week I wrote about how we got our first book to the printers. We pick up the story after the first boxes arrived and we realised we had to sell them to make our money back.

We plugged the book on our Facebook pages which helped, and then we went round the bookshops with bundles of books. Bookshops these days are either massive conglomerates or small shops that are often living hand to mouth. One bookshop purchased some copies outright but most would only take them on a sale or return basis. The large conglomerates were not easy to approach as their local outlets all told us to contact their central office or go through their main buyers. The same applied to pet stores where small ones took copies but the large ones had to refer us to head office which proved to be a roadblock. Either way, being a small publisher is hard. We had no money to advertise the books yet we still needed to get our name out there.

Penny, Armelle and I - Copyright South Wales Evening Post.

Penny, Armelle and I – Copyright South Wales Evening Post.

Animal – especially Greyhound – charities were really helpful, especially Greyhound Rescue Wales, who all sell the book and get a donation themselves, so it benefits everyone. As before, the larger animal charities (whose catalogues are managed by external sales and marketing companies, usually the same one) were very polite but nothing panned out that way. As our name got out, more people approached us about the book and so the number of outlets grew. We offered copies as raffle/competition prize, which was again publicity which also helped charities. We were even approached by an Irish dog charity from Donegal for copies. All reasonable requests accepted!

The book sold at craft fairs, and at library readings too. Local libraries were keen to have a local author visit but neighbouring local authorities were a dead end. Swansea Libraries even purchased copies for their stock. Gradually the books began to sell as our name and reputation grew.

Collecting the money from some of the bookshops proved difficult; one sold them on e-bay then refused to pay us (and never did) and others require a fair bit of prompting. (I must say that Cover to Cover in Oystermouth have been brilliant and an example of how things should be done). Part of the problem is that your books are swallowed up in a sea of other books and without any publicity material or, better still, a book signing/meet and greet your books will be almost invisible.

On the way home from work one evening I had an idea for a character and a new book, this time for children. It had a few twists in the plot to keep it fresh, so within a few days I had sketched out the story and began writing it. The Largest Rabbit just flew off the page. I needed a specific character to fill a role and there was a fabulous deerhound called Finn owned by a friend of ours in Ireland who I thought would fit the bill. So, with Kate’s approval, the Mighty Finn went into the book. I also added a heroic comic character called Jeffrey, an ancient marmalade cat who was my favourite and the most fun to write. After discussions with my business manager, we stumped up the cash and decided to put the book out again ourselves, under the Crafty Dog Books Cymru label. Once more, Jackie did our illustrations, but extra this time as we needed drawings for inside the book.

How did we know that the children it was aimed at would like it? A friend of ours is a deputy head at a primary school so I asked her if some of the guys there would like to read it. Jill replied by asking whether I would like to go and read excerpts at the school. It was a great idea – take Penny, introduce the children to a rescue greyhound, and read some of the book to see what they thought of the characters and the story. We need not have worried, the kids thought it was fabulous and it went down a storm. They were really entranced and it was great to see the way in which they really enjoyed the story and loved the characters. That convinced us that it was worth printing the book, and we could even include some illustrations the children had drawn after the reading.

Brindle Greyhound, Largest Rabbit, Greyhound,

The Adventures of the Strangest Rabbit You Ever Did See!

We were even more excited when we collected the boxes of The Largest Rabbit from the printers in Pontypool. Honestly, the books really took off. Facebook interest was great, and many who had ordered the first book ordered the new one too. Kate Clarke did an article about us and The Largest Rabbit in the South Wales Evening Post and the next week someone shared the link with a greyhound rescue site in the U.S.. We suddenly had orders coming in from across the states! For a week things went nuts – we thought the Crafty-Dog-Cymru.Co UK website would melt – but eventually calmed down again.

Our Crafty Dog Cymru website and webshop have proved very successful; as have the greyhound charities again – Greyhound Rescue Wales even have Chris Dignam Books as a category on their shop! Within 4 months we have even had to begin planning a reprint and the Largest Rabbit has already paid for itself.

If anyone wants a book reading at a school or Library or other group, pop us an e-mail. The only stipulation is that you have to purchase a copy of the book and Penny usually comes along! She is very well behaved though I can’t comment about the rest of us Crafty Dogs…

Our Latest Rescued Greyhound Blog – Penny the Crafty Dog

Penny, Greyhound, Crafty Dog, Chris Dignam

Penny’s heard the crisp packet…

Greyt Expectations – Chris Dignam’s Rescued Greyhound page – Penny the Crafty Dog

Here’s the latest Blog from the South Wales Evening Post.  This week’s is about how Penny arrived with us.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve mentioned our first rescued greyhounds, Sally and Sam. We have also fostered a few over the years in between dogs of our own. Our latest hound in the house is our Penny. Her story began like many other dogs but fortunately for her our paths crossed and so she came to us.

Penny is not her racing name; for reasons that will become apparent, it’s best not to share her name here. She was born in Ireland and after initial races was sold and brought over to the UK. Like all Irish dogs she has a tattoo in each ear, which shows the year of her birth and her litter, all the details of which are recorded on the Irish Greyhound Stud Book in Clonmel. Her trainer lived in the Home Counties and she raced on the Swindon dog track. She won a good number of races, had some seconds and some thirds, was a good runner and she raced until her last outing on the day before her fourth birthday.

A month or so after this race, a black dog was found in a field in mid Wales. A dog wandering in a farmer’s field where there is livestock can be shot as a potential sheep worrier – the dog disappears, no-one is any the wiser – but luckily this dog was taken in by the farmer. He contacted Greyhound Rescue and the dog found herself in the kennels at Swiss Valley. We had spoken to the kennels about taking on a new foster dog so Armelle and I came over to see the prospective fosters. There were as usual a large number of black dogs, difficult to rehome as people do not think they are as pretty as the other colours. One of these, the dumped hound who had been named Suzi by the kennels, came out and took to us almost immediately. She walked easily on the lead with me, and even reacted well to the kennel’s Jack Russell terrier. We decided that we would give her a go, but we had a couple of craft fairs that weekend. We were asked whether we minded if she went to another family in the meantime but I said no, hang on to her as she was going to be ours.

On the way home we decided on a name; Suzi did not suit her, but how about Penny – like the Penny Black Stamp? A week later we collected her and Penny never looked back.

Penny, Greyhound, Rescue

She was named Suzi when she was handed in by the farmer.

Greyhounds have their ears tattooed – Irish dogs both ears and British dogs one ear, an important means of identifying a dog to prevent racing fraud but it also means that any dumped dogs can be traced. Some have their ears cut off when abandoned to prevent them being identified. This does not always work however, as one owner found to his cost. A number of years back a battered greyhound was found alive but dying on the hillside above Fochriw near Merthyr. His owner had dumped the body before the animal was dead and his cries had attracted another dog and owner who contacted a vet. The greyhound was so severely injured they had to be put to sleep. The owner had cut off the dog’s ears but in spite of that due to the public outcry he was identified and prosecuted. This dog, nicknamed Last Hope by greyhound charities, is the reason for an annual sponsored walk at Brynbach Park to raise funds to protect dogs like them.

Penny was far luckier. She has really landed on her paws; a famous and well-travelled hound, she helps out at Craft Fairs where we sell our Crafty Dog Jams and Chutneys, or our Crafty Dog Designs hand-painted glassware or even at book readings of our books. She is such a gentle and well-behaved dog, she has been to book readings at schools and libraries across South Wales where I read excerpts from our children’s book “The Largest Rabbit” or our greyhound rescue book, “A Hound in the House”. She loves people and children, and is more than happy to have kids hanging round her neck making a fuss of her.

Penny has been a wonderful ambassador for her breed, and a number of people have said that they had never considered homing a greyhound until meeting her. In fact, after we did a book reading at Sketty Library last year one dog was rehomed by a family that met her that day, and the interest raised by her visit meant another four dogs were also given homes.

At a recent school visit we left as the children were being collected by their parents and we could hear the guys

saying to their parents, “That’s Penny that is. She’s a greyhound and she’s really lovely.” A seed planted in a young child’s mind will help change society’s attitude towards these fabulous dogs so in a few years’ time when they want a companion for their own family, they will think of adopting a greyhound after looking back on the day they had a school visit from Penny the Crafty Dog.

For more information about Penny, keep an eye out on the Crafty-Dog-Cymru.co.uk website, for information on her latest meet and greets or news on the new book.

greyhound, running, Penny, Crafty dog

Penny doing what she loves second best!

South Wales Evening Post, Greyhounds, Jam & Dylan Thomas

What an eventful day!

Chris and Penny have a nice big photo in the South Wales Evening Post today – the very same newspaper that Dylan Thomas cut his teeth writing for.  There is a lovely article by Kate Clarke about how they got involved with greyhound rescue, about their own greyhounds and their foster dogs.  As well as talking about rescuing hounds, it also mentions the jam and glass making.  The main point behind the piece is to launch the new weekly column Chris has been given in the on-line South Wales Evening Post, nominally titled “Greyt Expectations”, in which Chris will keep everyone updated on Penny’s adventures, as well as the world of the Crafty Dog industry, making glassware, jams and chutneys, writing and promoting the books, and generally letting everyone know how great rescued greyhounds are.  There may also be some hints about the new books planned – Penny’s story “In for a Penny, In for a Hound” and the further adventures of Rubbish, The Largest Rabbit.

Chris told us ,”To be in the paper is a wonderful opportunity for us to promote the world of greyhound rescue and make people see what wonderful companions they make.  It will also allow people to keep people informed on our latest range of jams and chutneys which are proving so very popular across South Wales!”