Jacob Williams
Saturday 29th February, 2020

Gatecrashing Farmer Glyn’s gig

Gatecrashing Farmer Glyn’s gig

Among the chairman’s announcements at Thursday’s full meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, Cllr. Simon Hancock paid tribute to Folly Farm’s owner and founder, Glyn Williams, who died last week.

The sad news came just a month after the zoo had hosted the birth of the first critically-endangered eastern black rhino in Wales, named Glyndŵr in the entrepreneur’s honour.

I didn’t know Glyn Williams but, once again, it made me recall with fondness the unusual circumstances of the only time I believe we met.

Folly Farm is as good at being a living museum, in my eyes, as it is a working farm and, more recently, a renowned zoo of truly world importance.

I’m a lover of all things old, particularly old things that move and/or make a noise. And if the old contraption’s heritage includes a strong local connection, I’m sold.

Pride of Pembroke worked on roadmaking in the county until 1965, when sold for £65 – scrap value – to Tommy James of Pembroke [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

That goes some way in explaining why one of my favourite Folly Farm exhibits is the aptly-named ‘Pride of Pembroke.’

This 1921 steam engine, a road roller, is displayed under long-term loan by the Scourfields of Sageston’s Barlett Engineering – when the family aren’t showing it up and down the country.

Made to order by Marshall, Sons & Co. of Gainsborough for the old Pembroke Rural District Council, it left the foundry on 21st December, 1921, and is still roadworthy under its original ‘DE 2929’ Pembrokeshire registration number.

You can’t fake that sort of provenance.

Coming from a family of petrolheads, and as someone whose childhood summers regularly featured steam rallies both local and far afield, Folly Farm’s indoor fairground section is quite evocative to this blogger.

Alongside the steamroller, tractors, farm machinery and iconic antique funfair rides, one of its biggest attractions – literally – is ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer.’

Originally installed in Manchester’s Gaumont Cinema, it’s now on permanent loan from Leicestershire-based organ expert and serial collector, Paul Kirner.

Although it’s played under computer control daily, special concerts of the Folly Farm Wurlitzer played by hand aren’t too common.

One of the earliest recitals was on September 11th, 2010, by Nigel Ogden.

He’s probably one of the only living ‘household name’ organists due to his long-running presentation of the BBC Radio 2 show, The Organist Entertains.

That evening I had volunteered to be quizmaster at East Williamston’s monthly quiz.

Held at the community hall for what must be getting on for fifteen years, they are randomly hosted by whoever has volunteered from among regular quiz-goers.

I haven’t missed many of these Saturday night events, which, I like to joke, are deadly serious if our team is winning, but merely ‘a bit of light-hearted fun’ if it looks like we’re losing!

Despite the hall being the only licensed premises in the village, the quiz nights have come through a few rough patches with poor turnouts.

This was one of those months. Nothing to do with me, I say – blaming it on what I recall was the unseasonably fine, barbecue weather!

As the evening was, at best, only likely to produce a losing and a winning team, we called it off.

On the drive home I considered how I might have gone to the Wurlitzer concert, had it not been for the quiz, and decided I wasn’t going to miss out on them both.

I diverted for Begelly.

Without meeting a soul, I’d managed to infiltrate the organ room. I had no ticket, and was alone, so I loitered inconspicuously just inside the door of this enormous repurposed agricultural shed.

I couldn’t really see ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer,’ but could hear Nigel Ogden’s keyboard skills well enough, as he played his last few tunes.

The only other person at the back of the packed house was Glyn Williams, listening similarly intently.

He was surely proud of the wildly successful relocation of this fine instrument – one of Britain’s best and most well-known theatre organs.

And then he walked up to me, but not to give me my own quizzing.

We got talking, where I opened by fessing up to my intrusion, telling him of my evening’s plans falling through, and how an unexpectedly-available JW had gambled on the chance to sneak a listen of the recently-transplanted Wurlitzer’s live performance.

Was ‘Farmer Glyn’ offended by my trespassing nerve?

Was he minded to put an end to my presumptuous pipe organ poaching?

Not at all. The opposite!

The hugely successful businessman generously suggested that I might go further in, for a better view – and take a seat, if there was one.

I didn’t – I stayed at the back, with Glyn, and the performance soon drew to a close. But I’d seen and heard what I had hoped to.

Folly Farm has continued to grow stronger and more successful – and so, I’m pleased to say, have East Williamston’s monthly quiz nights.

I’ve played quizmaster about eight or nine times since then – and each time I fondly recall the night I set out to host a quiz, but gatecrashed a Nigel Ogden Wurlitzer concert.

Who else can say the same?!

As I said at the start, I didn’t know Glyn Williams, but I can’t forget him – and not just because he did an awful lot to preserve and conserve so many things, and put Pembrokeshire on the map in so many ways.

As well as the Western Telegraph’s story, WalesOnline has run a great piece, replete with archive family photos of the attraction, from its 1980s beginnings. It’s well worth a read – as is every single reader comment, fourteen to date. The BBC also ran a story, and Folly Farm posted the following tribute on their Facebook page:

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