Caught by the River

The Singing Hills

3rd July 2022

Photographer Ed Brydon introduces his project ‘The Singing Hills’, which explores the improbable ties between New York and North Wales.

Cerwyn Price-Jones in the farmhouse his family built. His father emigrated to America along with four brothers and three sisters but returned to Wales in 1910. One of his uncles who stayed in America had 17 children so there is a large Price-Jones family in the USA. “Home, Wales, is like a magnet”, he said. Perhaps that is what draws people with Welsh ancestry to connect with the global Welsh.

In 2003 I moved to New York, eventually living there for fifteen years. I’m English and Irish by birth and parentage, but lived my formative years on Ynys Môn, where my father still lives. New York is, to use the cliché, a melting pot, and is synonymous with the Irish and Italian populations in particular. In about 2015, I stumbled across a community of people with Welsh ancestry in the Utica and Remsen area in Central NY. Like many people, I had heard about the Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina, but this was new to me; a sizeable Welsh identifying community in America. After diving into some research I then found out that there was a huge amount of immigration from Wales to America throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. The evidence is in place names like Bethesda, Maryland, colleges such as Bryn Mawr, and numerous Welsh heritage museums in Ohio and other states.

This spurred me to embark on a body of work about the connections between people and place, and the question: What is ‘Home’? Under the working title The Singing Hills, it features people of north Walian heritage in central New York and Vermont, landscapes in America and the places their families emigrated from and, where known, family relatives in North Wales. There are also elements of mythical Welsh storytelling throughout the wider project, influenced by The Mabinogion and the tale of the Welsh prince Madog, who it is said reached America more than three hundred years before Christopher Columbus. The project is deeply personal given my own emigration from North Wales to America. It is, in some ways, about my own journey. 

In 2017, initial work was shown at The Northern Eye Festival in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. Subsequently, in 2019, I received a Many Voices, One Nation commission from the Welsh Parliament. You can see an edit of pictures from the project made for that commission on my website. Now that I can travel to the US, I hope to complete photography for the wider body of work later this year, with the goal of building an exhibition and book.

Just like in Snowdonia, slate mining is part of the industry in Slate Valley, near Granville, NY, on the border with Vermont. The area has a large population descended from Welsh emigrants who came over looking for work and found it in the quarries, where they could use the skills they had learned in the quarries of Snowdonia.

Shirley Jones Tolbert’s photographs of her ancestors that moved to the Remsen area, and their old farm house.

Growing up on her family’s Jones Road farm in Remsen NY, USA, Priscilla Jones Heburn always heard Welsh spoken at home. It felt to her as if Wales was just over the hills.