The contents of a autobiography will stay in the memory long after the book covers are closed. As a renowned harpist and wife to a prominent politician, busy mother and grandmother, Elinor Bennett Wigley has enjoyed incredible success in her personal and professional life. However the book also recounts some traumatic experiences in her life which many would have found almost impossible to deal with.
In Tannau Tynion, the latest in Gwasg Gwynedd’s popular Cyfres y Cewri series, the author takes the reader on a journey in her unique writing style from Montgomeryshire to Llanuwchllyn, from Aberystwyth to London, from Merthyr to Bontnewydd in Arfon, and to the international stage.
Looking back at Elinor’s life evokes memories of key events in Welsh life, both public and private – from the harsh winter of 1947 which saw her father leave the farm near Llanidloes, to the fight in vain to save the Tryweryn Valley when the family were living in the house built by O.M. Edwards in Llanuwchllyn, to Elinor’s illegal broadcasting exploits in her teenage years on behalf of Plaid Cymru.
Cultural life in Llanuwchllyn offered many opportunities but it was the advent of television in the 1950s and a programme presented by harpist Osian Ellis, which proved to be her most significant musical inspiration. As a teenager he was her idol and Elinor wanted to be just like him. Osian Ellis would go on to judge her many times in competitions at the National Eisteddfod before becoming her teacher and helping develop Elinor’s blossoming career.
For a girl from rural Wales it may come as a surprise to learn how much London has helped shaped her destiny. It was where her father, in 1949, bought her very first harp, and personally transported it back by train to Llanuwchllyn. It was also where she studied at the Royal Academy of Music – and met Dafydd for the first time! It was in London that the couple bought their first home and where Elinor played with some of the world’s foremost orchestras. She also made her solo debut there at the Wigmore Hall in 1970.
The family had to relocate from London to Wales in the early 1970s, when Dafydd was appointed as a manager with Hoover in Merthyr. This was a town which Elinor came to love along with its people. Tragically, it was also where her two young sons, Alun and Geraint, were diagnosed with the fatal disease which claimed both their lives at a very young age – a tragedy which turned the family’s lives upside down.
Many may know her today as Elinor Bennett but it wasn’t always so! Following her marriage to Dafydd Wigley her agents Ibbs & Tillett suggested her family name, Bennett Owen, was too long for professional purposes – but also advised against changing it to her husband’s surname! From that day onwards she adopted two personas, Elinor Bennett the freelance musician and Mrs Wigley the wife. Her brilliant musical career, married and family life, has continued successfully side by side for the last 40 years. During this time Elinor has taught a great number of young harpists – including Catrin Finch, now her daughter-in-law.
In the book we also hear her forthright views on a number of matters relating to contemporary Wales – from the media to politicians and politics! Elinor, one of the founders of the William Mathias Music Centre in Caernarfon, said, “Writing the book has been cathartic and life affirming. It has reminded me that life is good, despite the setbacks. Memories came flooding back as I revisited in my imagination members of my family, which was fascinating. After months of reminiscing and putting pen to paper it’s high time to look forward to the future once again and face the next challenge – and to have fun with the children and grandchildren!”