I came across some weird and wonderful pieces of information when researching Britannia’s Dragon, but none were odder than one I came across at the very end of the process. This was a throwaway line on Coflein, the website of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, in the entry for the market hall in Newtown, Powys: ‘During the Second World War the Market Hall was used as one of four sites in Newtown in which the Royal Navy’s entire store of rum was housed’. Such a bizarre statement clearly demanded inclusion in the book, but it also clearly warranted further research to confirm it – and both at the time and since, I’ve had no time to carry it out. So I covered myself in the book by using one of the most useful words in the English language (‘allegedly’), and hope that someone reading this post might be able to provide some definitive evidence one way or the other!
Of course, there were other examples of ‘national treasures’ coming to Wales to be stored during the war (such as the paintings of the National Gallery at the Manod slate mine), so there’s nothing innately implausible in the idea of the rum being stored in Newtown, which was hardly a likely bombing target for the Luftwaffe. But the cursory search of the National Archives that I’ve had time to carry out reveals no mention of a naval presence in Newtown, and, indeed, provides some evidence to the contrary: ADM1/11556 discusses the move of several large rum vats from Deptford victualling yard to the ‘hostilities only’ victualling depot at Jamestown, Dunbartonshire, in 1941-2. So was the navy’s entire rum store hidden in Newtown? If not, how much, if any, of it was? A rum question indeed!