The Cardiff pirate and a bottle of rum

Have you heard about the boy from Llanrumney who became one of the most feared pirates of the seven seas? You may not recognise the story, but you will know the name if you drink rum. Captain Morgan. The world’s second-best selling rum carries the name of a swashbuckling Welshman who went from scourge of the Spanish fleet to favourite of King Charles II and governor of Jamaica.

Sir Henry is famous the world over as Captain Morgan

Sir Henry is famous the world over as Captain Morgan

Captain Henry Morgan never made rum. His image was borrowed by Seagram’s as a marketing ploy in the early 1980s. But even though he never made his own rum, Morgan did make a tremendous effort to drink as much of it as humanly possible. On a typical evening he could apparently tip six pints of the stuff and show no exterior effects at all. Morgan’s epic appetite also extended to women and wealth.

Morgan is believed to have been born in Llanrumney in 1635 – back then a small village between Cardiff and Newport.

Apart from his place of birth, little is known of Captain Morgan’s early life. He first came to prominence in 1655 when he sailed to the Caribbean as a soldier in a British expedition which captured Jamaica from the Spanish. Further battles followed with the Dutch and again with the Spanish over Cuba. According to the history books, Morgan’s qualities came to the fore throughout these battles and earned him a name as a respected leader of men.

Although widely seen as a pirate by drinkers of rum the world over, he was in fact a privateer, having the backing of the English crown to terrorise the Spanish.

After much swashbuckling in and around the Atlantic and Caribbean, he eventually became the ‘admiral’ of a fleet of privateer ships, and began plundering wealthy Spanish cities in the Americas, seizing islands, fighting battles, boarding treasure ships, earning a fortune, buckling swash and shivering his timbers!

Made famous today by rum, Captain Morgan’s crew may have been on the black stuff when he lost all five of his ships in rough seas in 1671 after an attack on a fort near Panama City.

The Spanish fort was on a cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the only water passageway between the Caribbean and Panama. While Morgan and his men ultimately succeeded in taking the fort, the nearby city of Panama was also looted and burned to the ground in violation of a peace treaty between England and Spain. Morgan was arrested soon after and sent to London to face the consequences.

The real Sir Henry  was partial to a tot of rum

The real Captain Morgan was partial to a tot of rum

Facing the prospect of a long stint in the Tower, or a future without a head, Morgan was lucky relations with Spain deteriorated so much he was eventually forgiven by his close friend King Charles II for his “carelessness”. Charlie gave Morgan a knighthood and sent him to Jamaica to become deputy governor.

Later rising to acting governor of Jamaica, Sir Henry won praise for strengthening the island’s fortifications against the Spanish threat and saw out his days as a planter and respected member of the ruling class before he fell ill and died in 1688.

Shortly before his death in Jamaica in August 1688 he was diagnosed with ‘dropsie’ but some say he may have contracted tuberculosis on a visit to London. It is also thought possible he may have suffered liver failure due to his notorious heavy drinking.

Captain Morgan was by no means the only pirate and buccaneer to come from Cardiff, however. Pirate captain Howell Davies is also thought to come from Llanrumney, a place seemingly churning out buccaneers, and was a frequent attacker of Spanish shipping. He too became the governor of Jamaica and named his estate there Llanrumney.

Fellow Welsh pirate Bartholomew Roberts was the most successful pirate of all time and was personally named in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Better known as Black Bart, he was the most profitable pirate in the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ taking around 400 ships.

So next time you order yourself a Captain Morgan’s and Coke, raise a glass to Sir Henry and the pirates of Cardiff Bay:

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Mine’s a pint.


George Orwell’s perfect pub

The final article George Orwell ever wrote for The Evening Standard was an homage to the perfect pub. Below is the full article in which he sets out the 10 things he requires for ale house nirvana. Do you agree with the ol’ George?

My favourite public house, ‘The Moon under Water’, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.

Its clientele, though fairly large, consists mostly of ‘regulars’ who occupy the same chair every evening and go there for conversation as much as for the beer.

If you are asked why you favour a particular public house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appears to me about ‘The Moon under Water’ is what people call its ‘atmosphere.’

To begin with, its whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian. It has no glass-topped tables or other modern miseries, and, on the other hand, no sham roof-beams, ingle-nooks or plastic panels masquerading as oak. The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull’s head over the mantelpiece ­ everything has the solid comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century.

In winter there is generally a good fire burning in at least two of the bars, and the Victorian lay-out of the place gives one plenty of elbow-room. There is a public bar, a saloon bar, a ladies’ bar, a bottle-and-jug for those who are too bashful to buy their supper beer publicly, and upstairs, a dining-room.

Games are only played in the public, so that in the other bars you can walk about without constantly ducking to avoid flying darts.

In ‘The Moon under Water’ it is always quiet enough to talk. The house possesses neither a radio nor a piano, and even on Christmas Eve and such occasions the singing that happens is of a decorous kind.

The barmaids know most of their customers by name, and take a personal interest in everyone. They are all middle-aged women ­ two of them have their hair dyed in quite surprising shades ­ and they call everyone ‘dear’, irrespective of age or sex. (‘Dear,’ not ‘Ducky’: pubs where the barmaid calls you ‘Ducky’ always have a disagreeable raffish atmosphere.)

Unlike most pubs, ‘The Moon under Water’ sells tobacco as well as cigarettes, and it also sells aspirins and stamps, and is obliging about letting you use the telephone.

You cannot get dinner at “the Moon under Water’, but there is always the snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a specialty of the house), cheese, pickles and those large biscuits with caraway seeds in them which only seem to exist in public houses.

Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch ­ for example, a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll ­ for about three shillings.

The special pleasure of this lunch is that you can have draught stout with it. I doubt whether as many as ten per cent of London pubs serve draught stout, but ‘The Moon under Water’ is one of them. It is a soft, creamy sort of stout, and it goes better in a pewter pot.

They are particular about their drinking vessels at ‘The Moon under Water’ and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass. Apart from glass and pewter mugs, they have some of those pleasant strawberry pink china ones which are now seldom seen in London. China mugs went out about thirty years ago, because most people like their drink to be transparent, but in my opinion beer tastes better out of china.

The great surprise of ‘The Moon under Water’ is its garden. You go through a narrow passage leading out of the saloon, and find yourself in a fairly large garden with plane trees under which there are little green tables with iron chairs round them. Up at one end of the garden there are swings and a chute for the children.

On summer evenings there are family parties, and you sit under the plane trees having beer or draught cider to the tune of delighted squeals from children going down the chute. The prams with the younger children are parked near the gate.

Many as are the virtues of ‘The Moon under Water’ I think that the garden is its best feature, because it allows whole families to go there instead of Mum having to stay at home and mind the baby while Dad goes out alone.

And though, strictly speaking, they are only allowed in the garden, the children ten to seep into the pub and even to fetch drinks for their parents. This, I believe, is against the law, but it is a law that deserves to be broken, for it is the puritanical nonsense of excluding children ­ and therefore to some extent, women ­ from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be.

‘The Moon under Water’ is my ideal of what a pub should be ­ at any rate, in the London area. (The qualities one expects of a country pub are slightly different.)

But now is the time to reveal something which the discerning and disillusioned reader will probably have guessed already. There is no such place as ‘The Moon under Water’.

That is to say, there may well be a pub of that name, but I don’t know of it, nor do I know any pub with just that combination of qualities.

I know pubs where the beer is good but you can’t get meals, others where you can get meals but which are noisy and crowded, and others which are quiet but the beer is generally sour. As for gardens, offhand I can only think of three London pubs that possess them.

But, to be fair, I do know of a few pubs that almost come up to ‘The Moon under Water’. I have mentioned above ten qualities that the perfect pub should have, and I know one pub that has eight of them. Even there, however, there is no draught stout and no china mugs.

And if anyone knows of a pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be glad to hear of it, even though its name were something as prosaic as ‘The Red Lion’ or ‘The Railway Arms’.

Evening Standard, 9 February 1946

Mine’s a pint.