Mrs Johnes’ Garden at Hafod

by The Curious Scribbler

In the summer of 1788 Jane Johnes wrote to her brother John Johnes of Dolaucothi describing her garden at Hafod  as ” in high beauty” and “full of flowers”.  Two hundred and thirty years is a long time ago, and for much of the recent hundred there was nothing to boast about at Hafod.  So it is pleasing this summer to be able once more to echo those words, as the  borders fill out with recently replanted herbaceous perennials and a glut of multi-headed foxgloves.

Foxgloves in the borders in Mrs Johnes’ garden Hafod

The restoration began with the removal of the sitka spruce plantation 10 year ago and the shrubs around the perimeter are now up to 7 years’ established.  Recently, pride of place has been held by the scented Philadelphus, the gleaming white blooms of Rosa x alba Semi Plena, and the arching briars of Shailer’s White Moss Rose.

Rosa x alba Semi Plena

Rosa Shailer’s White Moss

The Hafod Trust  received donations towards the planting of the garden from the Finnis Scott Foundation, and from the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust.   With the final planting phase and a lavish application of rich organic mulch in the autumn of last year the garden has now turned a corner, and is developing the frothy abundance of a proper garden.  The foxgloves are natives which, finding themselves in such a rich environment, sent up as many as half a dozen flower spikes from every plant.  The two or three welsh poppies planted two years ago now have spawned a host of seedlings, while patches of Doronicum, Chelone, Lysimachia, Veronicastrum and  Elecampane jockey for position amongst the shrubs.

The Cardiganshire Horticultural Society visited at the end of June and despite persistent rain enjoyed a number of short talks about the garden.

The Cardiganshire Horticultual Society visits Mrs Johnes’ Flower Garden, Hafod

Historian Jennie Macve described its place in Garden History.   In 1787 Johnes visited Rev W. Gilpin and told him that his chief guide in laying out his grounds at Hafod had been Rev William Mason’s lengthy poetic work, ‘The English Garden’.   In volume four of this work, Mason (who laid out the garden at Nuneham Courtney in Oxfordshire) gives his prescription for his then innovative style of flower garden, with its circuit gravel walk, its flower beds cut out of shaven turf forming winding grass paths between, its thickets of shrubs and colourful flowers. Visitors to Hafod described the garden lying, like a jewel in the wilderness, glimpsed briefly from the wooded heights of Gentleman’s Walk on the south bank of the Ystwyth, or appearing suddenly to the walker approaching on the gentler Lady’s Walk.

Jennie also revealed that although the Coade stone heads of a Nymph and a Satyr which form the keystones of the two garden entrances bear the date 1793 it is unclear when they were installed there.  The door arches as seen today were heavily restored in the 1980s when the garden was derelict and the original Coade stone heads had already found their way into Margaret Evans’s Collection, which now resides in the Ceredigion Museum.  The heads in the garden today are perfect replicas in resin.  Oddly, none of the contemporary descriptions mention these arches, or the stone heads.  It is even possible  that these elaborate doorways were installed by a later owner, perhaps the Duke of Northumberland, using second-hand Coade stone ornament. We just do not know.

The original Coade Stone heads, now in the Ceredigion Museum

She also viewed with caution the designation as an ‘American Garden’.  Only one contemporary visitor who left a written record describes the presence of American plants.  What is clear though is that Jane Johnes was a keen plantswoman,  the Johneses employed able gardeners, and that they corresponded about plants with their friends Sir Robert Liston and his wife, who cultivated an acclaimed American Garden at their home in Edinburgh.  Plants enthusiasts, then as now, invariably seek out and exchange rare plants new to horticulture.  Just as the Wollemi pine and the tree fern Dicksonia antarctica have become the must-have plants of today, Jane and the Listons would have sought to obtain the new.  In the late eighteenth century much of the new was being imported by plant collectors working the eastern seaboard of the USA.  Very few plants had yet been imported from the far east, and the many exotic Chinese and Japanese garden plants so familiar today were quite unknown.

Landscape architect Ros Laidlaw was also present to explain how she had selected the plants for Mrs Johnes’ garden entirely from species and cultivars known to be available to British gardeners in the eighteenth century.  This was quite a challenging task, for some, such as the fragrant North American shrub Comptonia asplenifolia have fallen from popular use and no longer appear in nurserymen’s lists, whilst for many other plants, improved hybrid versions have now largely replaced the original species.  The roses I alluded to at the beginning are named cultivar Old Roses with an established history,  the fragrant Philadelphus coronarius has open yellow-centred single flowers, quite like a Eucryphia bloom, rather than the familiar double flowers of modern garden cultivars.

The modern restoration does not attempt to reproduce the layout of the original garden which would have had many brilliant island beds, probably geometrically arranged and cut out of the shaven turf.  Such a  garden would be extremely labour-intensive to care for, and is best enjoyed by small groups of people strolling through the sinuous paths inspecting the plantings.  In its present form the garden offers historical authenticity in the path layout and the selection of species in the perimeter border, while the central lawn has made possible events such as the phenomenally successful Foxglove Fair which in early May saw as many as 2000 visitors enjoying food, shopping and entertainment under a brilliant and cloudless sky.

Crowds descended on the Foxglove Fair in 12 May

Doronicum pardalianches

The garden is principally maintained by the Hafod Estate manager Dave Newnham and his assistant Simon Boussetta.  There are also regular Volunteer Weeding Days, the next of which will be on Friday 19 July and Friday 23 August.  Garden maintenance is vital and more loyal volunteers are always needed.  Volunteers bring their preferred weeding tools, and are rewarded with tea and coffee and a keen sense of achievement!  They have been very enjoyable days.

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Magnificent trees at Gelli Aur

by the Curious Scribbler

Gelli Aur (or Golden Grove) is an important mansion and estate situated in the Towy valley not far from Aberglasney but much less visited.  Its fortunes in the last half-century have been rocky, and increasingly dispiriting.  The second world war took its toll, when the house was occupied by the US Air Force and temporary buildings mushroomed on the lawned terraces. The following peace saw it occupied for almost 50 years by  the Carmarthen Agricultural College (Coleg Sir Gar) while 60 acres of the grounds became a Country Park.  Then more recently the College moved to modern premises and the estate was sold.  The last ten years or so has seen a succession of owners of which the most publicised was the aspiration to develop it as a convalescent home for soldiers.  However the failure of this and various inappropriate development bids left the house a severely dilapidated wreck, stripped of its roof lead and run through with wet and dry rot, and even the Country Park closed to visitors.

So it is a delight to find its fortunes have finally turned the corner, thanks to a philanthropic backer and a newly formed preservation trust.  Last Autumn public access was restored  to the arboretum and a newly built tea room provides excellent lunches and teas.  It is a big largely glass building overlooking the wooded landscape below, and is even well equipped with family board games should the weather be too wet to venture outside.  I found Frances Jones Davies ( formerly editor of Wales’ glossy magazine Cambria)  running the cafe and expounding the ongoing developments for the house.

It is not perhaps the prettiest of Regency mansions.  The ancient seat of the Vaughans was down in the valley and was demolished  by Lord Cawdor when he built the present house.  Styled a Hunting Lodge it was built 1827-32 by Wyatville on  the slopes above the deerpark. It acted as an alternative to the principal Cawdor seat at Stackpole in Pembrokeshire.

To frame the setting of the new house, the land rising behind it was formed into a series of broad grassy terraces, and an arboretum was begun by the head gardener William Hill in the 1860s among some existing native beeches and oaks.

Golden Grove mansion viewed from the terraces above

Things have thrived in this rich damp valley.  Last week  horticultural expert Ivor Stokes led a group of enthusiasts from the Ceredigion WHGT ( Welsh Historic Gardens Trust) around the arboretum. Among the huge beeches and oaks there are exotic firs, pines, spruces, thujas, redwoods and cypresses drawn up to prodigious heights.

A Lawson’s Cypress, given time and space becomes a magnificent tree

A huge multi-stemmed Monterey Pine at Gelli Aur

The undergrowth includes a fine variety of rhododendrons and azaleas, some of them  cultivars now rare or lost. We marvelled at a particularly vigorous Fern leaved Beech, and a huge Magnolia tripetala still sporting one or two spring flowers.

A champion Magnolia tripetala ( native to the Eastern USA)

Magnolia tripetala flower

It it were not for the rain I would have taken many more photographs and made copious notes.

An unexpected treat was to be granted access to the 10 acre walled garden, now in separate ownership which adjoins the site of the old mansion.  This is truly large, so huge that it even contains a small lake! ( most walled gardens are little more than one acre in extent).

Golden Grove. The old walled garden contains a small lake

And at the margin of this garden is a truly spectacular tree, remnant of the Vaughan glory days.  it is a towering double-trunked tulip tree, more than 29 feet in circumference.  A whole ecosystem lives upon it, with massive vines of ivy, and seedling rhododendron, ferns and mosses nestled in the crevices of its bark.  Tulip trees Liriodendron tulipifera first came to Britain in Stuart times and this may well be one of the first to arrive.

Ivor Stokes at the foot of the Tulip Tree at Golden Grove

 

The champion Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera at Gelli Aur

Gelli Aur mansion is undergoing restoration and will in time be open to the public an art gallery and cultural centre.  In the meantime it may be possible for small groups to arrange a visit to the house.

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The Foxglove Fair at Hafod

by the Curious Scribbler

The Foxglove Fair at Hafod

Hafod has come along way from its derelict state in 1994.  The walks and bridges are all now restored and it is prized by many people for its its quiet tranquillity, its vistas and waterfalls and the three walled gardens at its core.

This coming weekend that tranquillity will be, for some hours, interrupted by an event much anticipated in the community.  A large marquee has blossomed in Mrs Johnes’ Flower Garden, and on Saturday  evening it will host Music in the Marquee, a ticketed event at which food and drink will be available along with  entertainment by two local bands, the Hornettes and The Hicksters.

The Hornettes and The Hicksters

On Sunday the Foxglove Fair runs from 10.30 to 6pm.  There will be 40 outdoor stands selling crafts, plants, food and drink, while more stands devoted to sales and local organizations will be in the marquee.  Throughout the day a programme of music in the marquee will be provided by local schools and choirs and the Aberystwyth Silver Band.

It is right and proper in my view that a garden should be not merely beautiful but useful, a place of sociability and fun.  Mrs Johnes’ garden, which occupies a low lying area by a bend in the Ystwyth river, has proved its merits before, notably at a lavish wedding reception held there by Nick and Claire Lee in 2018.

Wedding marquee at Hafod

For this weekend’s events the initiative came from the tourism body Pentir Pumlumon and the Cefn Croes Windfarm Trust and has been choreographed by Tourism Development Officer Tanya Friswell and Hafod Estate Manager Dave Newnham.

I hope visitors will take time to stroll round the garden, planted, as an echo of its former splendour, with plants which were available to gardeners in the garden’s heyday in the late 18th century.  Some contemporary  visitors described Mrs Johnes’ Garden as an American Garden.  At this time fashionable recent introductions were chiefly from the eastern side of the USA.  The rich variety of Japanese and Chinese flowers and shrubs familiar in gardens today had yet to be discovered.

Just ten years ago this garden was barely discernable, swamped by a mature plantation of sitka spruce.  Huge earthmovers and diggers extracted the stumps, lifting and shaking them of earth as the weeder shakes a groundsel.

In 2009 the sitka spruce plantation was removed and the garden restoration began

The  forest road was re-routed round the margin of the old garden, and the dry stone walls repaired and topped with moss.

In Mrs Johnes’ day the lawn would have been ornamented with many island beds brilliant with flowers.  It is well described by B.H. Malkin (The Scenery, Antiquities and Bibliography of South Wales published 1804) “A gaudy flower garden, with its wreathing and fragrant plats bordered by shaven turf, with a smooth gravel walk carried around, is dropped, like an ornamental gem among wild and towering rocks, in the very heart of boundless woods. The spot contains about two acres, swelling gently to meet the sunbeams, and teeming with every variety of shrub and flower”.

The modern restoration has the original circular gravel path but the ornamental borders are confined to the perimeter of the garden.  Those fragrant, gaudy plats would require a great deal of gardeners’ time, especially when the ‘shaven turf’ was all mowed by scythe.  The present arrangement still requires regular effort by garden volunteers, but also allows Hafod to welcome the occasional big event, and play a full part in the community.  I intend to be there.

August 2018 Volunteers spread extra mulch on the border

The garden volunteers meet on Fridays: this year weeding dates are planned for 31 May, 28 June, 19 July, 23 August, 3 October.  More volunteers are always welcome, and will find tea and biscuits and a warm welcome in the garden from 10 am till 4pm.

 

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The Mosaic Restoration Company

By The Curious Scribbler

In 2016 I wrote about Aberystwyth’s two fine mosaics by Jesse Rust of Battersea, which respectively adorn the exterior of the Old College, and the floor  of Llanbadarn Church.  Both arose as a result of the influence of the architect J.P.Seddon, who worked on the restoration of St Padarn’s Church in 1878 and who designed the seafront hotel which was to become Old College.   When Seddon enlarged the building for the College the triptych panel, (which depicts Pure Science flanked by two acolytes bearing the fruits of applied science), was installed at the south end of the Science wing in 1887.

For many years the mosaic floor of the church has been partially covered with a red carpet, and pockmarked here and there with damage, missing tesserae, and a few poor quality repairs. That is until last Monday, when the Mosaic Restoration Company came to town.

Llanbadarn Church mosaic floor. holes before restoration

In just four days the team of four have wrought a massive change.  Specialist cleaning has revealed a palette of colours barely apparent before.  Down on their knees each worked on replacing the missing pieces of of the design.  Beside him was a set of tupperware boxes containing appropriately matched pieces of opaque glass.  The original glass was made, by recycling glass bottles, in Jesse Rust’s Battersea workshop.  Today the glass is sourced from Italy, where mosaic restoration is bigger business than it is here.

Repair in progress

Material for the glass tiles

Many of the swirling patterns contain flower designs, in which the replacement petals have to be clipped away to make a curved edge.

New  white tesserae cut to shape to replace the missing pieces

A crudely repaired curlicue before restoration

The same after restoration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It takes close inspection to notice all the elaborate detail of the floor, the different shades and patterns within which the large squares of gold and red picture tiles are framed, and the edging details which make this extensive mosaic resemble a bespoke fitted carpet. The sets of four picture tiles set in circular frames are by Godwin of Lugwardine, a popular manufacturer of tiles on holy subjects.  The many different designs include the  Lamb of God, the four evangelist symbols, and sundry angels and kings.  Not a single one is broken, and the variety on the church floor far exceeds the collections of the British Museum!

The gleaming cleaned and restored floor.

The Church is to be congratulated for seeking out the funding and expertise which has brought this huge mosaic back to its full potential. I hope that the carpet will not return! The organist tells me that the acoustics, without it, are much improved so there is every reason to display the entire floor as the designer intended.

Four restorers from The Mosaic Restoration Company, at Llanbadarn Church last week

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Penglais Campus – a continuing embarrassment

I googled the Penglais Campus today and found a link to its Investing in the Future  campaign of refurbishment.  The first line reads “Penglais Campus has benefitted from extensive refurbishment over the last year. Keep checking this section for more developments in the near future.”  But when I clicked on it this is all I found.Embarrassing is indeed a good word for what has been done to the campus in the last two years!

People are still reeling from the conversion of the main entrance from this:

The Hugh Owen building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth with original planting in 2003

to a gulag with weed trees in the foreground, and vistas of  bark and turf.

The Hugh Owen bank today

Other major losses to the important  Cadw II* listed plantings have been described in this blog over the last 18 months.   Its historic character is being steadily and unnecessarily whittled away. Another loss has just occurred in association with the car park which occupies a space between Computer Sciences and Physical Sciences and is being radically reconstructed.

Refurbishment of the car park underway between Computer science and Physical sciences buildings.

The Sweet Chestnut which stood out so handsomely against the red wall of the Physics Building has been cut down.  It adjoined the car park, but was not in it.  The stump stands, outside the contractors’ area today.  Once again the decisions about “Improvement” are being carried out without attention to the landscape significance of the site.

The Sweet Chestnut ( left hand tree in picture) in October 2017.  In spring and summer the bright foliage gleamed against the plain red wall.

Plantings were created by thoughtful horticulturalists to complement this architecturally striking building.  On the other side there is a fine border and a birch, ( safe but for how much longer?).  This view was formerly framed by a lawn on which happy students were often photographed for University brochures.  Was it really necessary to sacrifice so much of it for the giant lettering on the huge turning area which  serves the users of two disabled parking spaces?

The other side of the Physics building

I took a visitor around the campus on Saturday, and across the road from this she spied the entrance to Biological Sciences. Could those really be PLASTIC PLANTS?

Plastic ferns flank the entrance to Biological Sciences

” I’ve seen enough” she exclaimed, “take me away from here!”

Perhaps the people in Biology are doing irony. The creation of the campus plantings in the 1960s and 1970s was closely influenced by the expertise of successive professors of Botany working with well-qualified designers and gardeners.  Today, the academic staff have no influence upon their  environment, and the University has no Conservation Management Plan, presumably because conservation of a 20th century landscape is not their priority.  Indeed it was recently announced that the care of the garden landscape of the campus has been devolved from the Estates Department to the general manager of the Sports Centre.

Contrast this with the University of Bristol which is custodian of eight historic gardens including a 2009 Centenary Garden, all expertly cared for.  Aberystwyth could shine for its exceptional 20th century landscape.  It is an opportunity lost.

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The Elvis Rock

by The Curious Scribbler

Following my recent much-read blog about the vandalism and prompt repainting of the Cofiwch Dryweryn wall near Llanrhystud several readers contributed comments on the familiar Elvis rock just over the Ceredigion border on the A44 at Eisteddfa Gurig which the unknown vandals appeared to be copying.

The Elvis rock at Eisteddfa Gurig

This too, is a reinstated version of a modified graffiti message. Originally painted on the rock in 1962 it represented electioneering support for Islwyn Ffoulkes Ellis, the Plaid Cymru candidate in a by-election.   This being the legal name  bestowed upon him at birth in 1924 it was necessarily spelled thus on the electioneering literature and the hoardings.  But he was not a successful candidate and is much better known as the Lampeter University academic and prominent Welsh author Islwyn Ffowc Elis.

This historic detail solves a problem which has long perplexed me:  How do you find the space to amend Elis to Elvis?

The original ‘Elvis’ has also been destroyed in the interim and has been repainted on a freshly cut face of rock. Now it sports an expansive V wider than the rest of the lettering, as my picture shows.

According to Gwylim writing last month in Ein Gwlad, the original artists of the original ‘Ellis’ were the late film director John Hefin and David Meredith, former Head of Press and PR at HTV and S4C. The original author of Cofiwch Dryweryn was the late Professor Mike ( later spelled Meic) Stevens. What a talented and scholarly lot these graffiti writers became!   Did they already consider themselves men of letters in their nationalist-slogan writing days?

 

 

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Cofiwch Dryweryn

by The Curious Scribbler.

I learnt on the Welsh News on Sunday that the graffiti on the wall beside to A487 just north of Llanrhystud has been vandalised once again, so I took a detour there today.  Imagine my surprise to find that the new daubing  ‘Elvis’ and a heart has already disappeared, to be replaced by the original message.  It has become quite a tourist attraction.  As I pulled into the adjoining layby I found another pilgrim like myself already bent on photography!

Passers by are stopping to admire the freshly repainted wall.

A quick search of Facebook reveals that a newly formed group styling themselves Welsh Independence Memes for Angry Welsh Teens lost no time in obliterating the substitution, toiling through the night to reinstate the old message.

The self appointed custodians of Welsh history

How much more satisfactory than a ponderous debate with the Authorities as to how and with whose money the restitution should be made! It is evocative of the original creation of the memorial, by a young Welsh Nationalist student at Aberystwyth University in the 1960s.  It is a less known fact that that original young artist was one Meic Stevens, who died recently, having risen to the heights of Professor of Welsh Writing in English at The University of Glamorgan, a prolific author and Editor of The New Companion to Welsh Literature!

Meic’s artwork was prompted by the flooding of the village of Capel Celyn to create the Tryweryn Reservoir in 1965.  I can think of no better aide-memoir than a little snippet of British Film Institute video  which records the last event at Capel Curig School and the last wedding, in 1963 at its chapel, while the earthmovers create a great scar in the background. Everyone in their best clothes, the ladies in their hats and heels, little girls  in their summer dresses, boys in in their blazers and ties.  It evokes a distant past.

As the years passed the wall crumbled at one end, and the H disappeared entirely.  One could still draw in and post a letter there, though that opportunity has gone today.

An earlier morph of the graffiti

It was touched up from time to time but it is in the present century that there have been successive attacks on the roadside memorial.  In 2010 it was partially painted over to display an blobby ambiguous tag.  In 2013 MP Mark Williams posed in front if it wearing an expression of grim concern.  The perpetrators thought the obliterated letter W and the smiley face an amusing joke.

MP Mark Williams condemned the new graffiti in 2013

 

The wall was repainted in 2013 with the original message.

The next addition was at least more politically relevant  ” Remember Aberfan was appended and this remained for several years.

More recently the lettering was redone, in green rather than the original white, perhaps to emphasize the Welsh colours.Last weekend’s morph was perhaps the least creative.  The new daub seems superfluous – we already have the well known Elvis rock at Eisteddfa Gurig.  A second ‘Elvis’ lacks the historical relevance of the first, which was a corruption of the electioneering notice for Councillor Elis. One wonders exactly what the author of thinking of.

The Cofiwch Dryweryn wall as it appeared on 1 of February 2019, but was promptly obliterated.

The dynamism of the repainting team, slaving by lamplight on a very chilly night is heartening.  Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader and MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd Liz Saville Roberts has joined the fray with a worthy statement:

The Cofiwch Dryweryn Memorial is a symbolic and poignant reminder of why Welsh land; Welsh culture & Welsh communities cannot be allowed to be so drastically undervalued ever again’

Only in Wales could a piece of Banksy artwork be subject to such publicly-funded protection whilst an unrivalled marker of our nation’s political struggle for self-determination is left open to asinine damage.’

‘The Welsh Government must now act, acknowledge the history of the nation it purports to serve and afford this emblem the recognition and protection it rightly deserves.’ 

But is physical protection really the way forward?  The immediate independent action  to repaint the memorial is surely far more dynamic history than is putting up a fence!  Though I suppose a video camera could reveal, to the embarrassment of many,  the full range of activities to which a roadside layby can be put.

 

 

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Halkyn Marble

by the Curious Scribbler

In November, when writing about Snowdrop marble, I planned to return to another beautiful and distinctive Welsh stone – Halkyn marble from the Carboniferous limestone of North Wales.  I am grateful to Andrew Haycock of the Welsh Stone Forum for introducing me to this pretty stone.

Halkyn marble font in St Mary the Virgin Church ,  Halkyn.

This stone was recognised for its ornamental potential in the early nineteenth century, when the Marble quarry  first appears in the will of John Salisbury in 1837.  It qualities are amply displayed at Halkyn church, a spectacularly lavish Victorian church built by the First Duke of Westminster in 1877.  At that time the Duke was employing Chester architect John Douglas to extend Halkyn Castle in the Elizabethan style and, finding the existing parish church to be somewhat shabby and, worse still, interfering with the view from the castle, he demolished it entirely and built a new one, also by John Douglas, on a nearby site.  As is often the case with such vanity projects, the unattractive old memorials of the former church were not transferred, except for a Latin-inscribed slab to a former rector, Peter Roberts and  an unexplained but damaged alabaster effigy which hints at an important memorial now lost.

Peter Roberts, Rector, died 1819 must have been fun at dinner ! “In conversation suavis, facetus, hilaris”  – suave, facetious and hilarious  – or at the very least,    ‘Sweet, witty and cheerful’

The master mason who built the new church out of local Gwespyr sandstone was also the owner of the marble quarry at Pant-y-Pwll Dwr, five miles away.  He lost no opportunity to showcase its qualities in the church interior. Four handsome pillars of Halkyn marble separate the nave from the north aisle, the pulpit stands upon a plinth of the stone, and the barrier between nave and chancel is topped with this polished stone.  Typically available in slabs up to 18 inches thick, the massive font is carved from three layers of this particularly impressive rock, with a stem of black marble, probably also of local origin.

Interior of St Mary the Virgin, Halkyn

Interior stonework in Halkyn Marble

The appeal of this stone comes from the fossils within the grey matrix.  These are the stems of sea lilies – crinoids – which were an abundant form of sessile echinoderm, relatives of sea urchin and starfish.  Cut across they look like beads, cut obliquely whole stems are visible.  At a lesser frequency are large bivalved seashells, – productids – which generally look like curved C-shapes in section.

Pillar formed of blocks of Halkyn marble

Large slabs of Halkyn marble  also went to the Duke of Westminster’s Victorian Eaton Hall which was a gothic turretted monstrosity built to a design by Alfred Waterhouse in the 1880s and demolished  eighty years later.

Eaton Hall in 1907 a photograph by John Steggall                                                                                Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1339190

Halkyn marble may well have found its way to other properties of the Grosvenor estate.

The original quarry is long gone, subsumed into a huge Cemex quarry just south of the A55 North Wales Expressway, where these abundant  fossils are ground up to make  road-stone. Adjoining the modern quarry one can still find smaller outcrops in which the crinoid stems are eroded by the weather to stand proud of the surface.

Halkyn marble weathers out to expose the crinoid stems

the disused quarry at Bryn Blewog, just across the road from Pant-y-Pwll Dwr the giant Cemtex quarry.

When dry and unpolished the stone just looks grey, raindrops expose some hint of its potential beauty. It is heartening to know that Gwyn Davies stonemason of nearby Rhes-y-cae was able to obtain 100 tons of quality beds of Halkyn marble from the Cemex quarry, so it is still possible to commission a fireplace or stone slabs to ornament a modern project, or to restore a historic one.  A new piece was used in 2011 to mark the end at Chepstow, of the Wales Coast path.

Image result for chepstow wales coastal path

Slab of unpolished Halkyn marble (left) and of Pennant Sandstone (right) mark the end of the Wales Coastal path at Chepstow. copyright BBC News in Pictures

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To fell or not to fell?

by The Curious Scribbler

There is a good deal of consternation around the Council’s decision to fell trees on Cambridge Terrace so I went between the rain showers to investigate this quiet corner of Aberystwyth.  It is not a road but a footpath really, which sets off along the back of the houses on Queen’s Road, just after the dejected former catholic church, and runs along below the bowling greens  as far as the North Road Clinic.  Here the path swerves uphill to approach North Road.

The thirty-three Monterey Cypresses

The specifications sounded alarming:  33 Monterey Cypresses and 5 White  Poplars are for the chop, and I have heard parallels being drawn with the disgraceful sacrifice of street trees which has caused so much anguish in Sheffield.  So I was relieved to find that the 33 Monterey Cypresses are basically just an outgrown hedge.  These are not trees which like being crowded, and which when used as a hedge must be cut meticulously every year because unlike Yew they do not sprout again from old wood.  The hedge has obviously escaped the council’s care many years ago, and the result is spindly misshapen trees, which have very little visual appeal.  I think their loss is justified. Far fewer trees widely spaced could be allowed to reach the same height here but they would be far more shapely.

The poplars form a twiggy skyline when seen from North Road over the rope maze, and I understand at least one resident has objected to their invasive roots affecting his garden.

View from North Road, the poplars reach above the Holm Oaks on Cambridge Terrace.

But when I walked along this pretty path behind Queens Road I was struck by the other planting here.  There are a couple of gnarled and contorted Wych Elms ( Ulmus scabra ‘Camperdownii’) , and some small crab apple trees, but the secluded  character of  this byway is defined by the many substantial Holm oaks on either side.  This evergreen oak is a delightful town tree, most appropriate for a Victorian setting, and I am relieved to see that these will all be retained.   Already the poplars are overshadowing and their branches inter-meshing with the Holm oaks. Irrespective of the root issue, this is just too many trees in a confined space,  so I cannot oppose their loss.

looking north along Cambridge Terrace

In considering the suitability of the Holm Oak I am reminded of the landmark tree outside Plas Antaron which marks the entry to Penparcau.  This is the same tree that stood there in the 1860s and appears in a sketch in one of W.T.R. Powell of Nanteos’ famous scrap books, and records  his and his friends’ drunken return there one evening.  About 15 years ago I remember  that tree surgeons lopped off its  spreading crown, first on the road side one year, and once this re-sprouted, on the other side two years later.  It looked pretty brutal at the time but the crown re- grew to create the handsome bushy tree we see today.

The Holm oak outside Plas Antaron, Penparcau

The Cambridge Terrace Holm Oaks have the same potential, and already screen the houses from  sight from North Road.  They will flourish without the crowded competition and are a well mannered tree well suited to this location. Hedgehogs have been seen on Cambridge Terrace and probably thrive there not just on the insects and earthworms but  on the nutritious fallen acorns from these trees.

If and when the somewhat dreary rope maze is replaced by a more conspicuous or noisy recreational facility there will still be this calm canopy of dark green forming a backdrop to the former second bowling green.

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Snowdrop Marble

by The Curious Scribbler

A few years ago I was lucky to view the interior of one of the finest houses on the Tenby seafront, no 1 Lexden Terrace, a Grade II* listed building which was, at the time, the home of Mrs Marion Hutton.

Six house make up Lexden Terrace, overlooking the sands at Tenby. No 1 is at the right.

The five storey house was a treasure trove of antiques and objets collected in her lifetime, but my particular attention was drawn to a fire surround, made of polished black stone ornamented with white fossils.  This and much else of the interior dates back to the 1840s when sea captain John Rees of Tenby, enriched by his trading activities in the Chinese Opium Wars, built not one but five handsome houses set on an outcrop above Castle Sands.  Number 1 was his home, while numbers 2-5 were then, as they are today, upmarket holiday lets.

1 Lexden Terrace, Tenby: Snowdrop Marble fire surround.  The brachiopod shells sliced in section look a little like snowdrop blooms.

The stone probably came from the Pwll Quarry, just inland from Pendine.  Leslie Baker Jones ( Trans Carms. Antiquarian Soc. 1971)  has written about the monumental mason, Tom Morris of Pendine, who lived  1804 -1886, and whose career with Messrs Rogers, Marble Masons of Tenby involved the manufacture of funeral slabs, mantelpieces, tables and other domestic adornments. Morris felt Pwll Quarry yielded the best Snowdrop Marble, as it was called, though there were other nearby sources exploited in the 19th century, at Carew Newton to the the west and at Llanddarog and Llangynderyn, to the north east of Kidwelly.

A detail of the over mantel. Where the internal structure of the brachiopod is cut through showing the forked spondylium, the resemblance to a snowdrop bloom is strongest.

This distinctive stone occurs only locally and is of Carboniferous age, and was variously marketed as Black and White marble, Snowdrop marble, and as Welsh Black ( the last perhaps describing layers less rich in the distinctive fossils).  In St Mary’s Church, Tenby we found examples on grave slabs going back as far as 1788.

In the great outdoors it has fared less well, for the acidity in the rain has destroyed the polish, such that the fossils are only clearly visible when wet. At Manordeifi Church, Llechryd it is easy to overlook a massive inscribed slab, cramped in a vertical setting within a sheltering arch of masonry.  Shelter has done it little good, but close inspection shows the speckled appearance to be due to the mass of “snowdrops” or rather brachiopods in the stone.

 

Grave memorial in Snowdrop marble at Manordeifi Church

Another grave, at St Florence, Pembrokeshire was once highly ornamental, but its richly fossiliferous appearance and colour contrast are lost without the polish.

A detail of a gravestone at St Florence, Pembs, in snowdrop marble

And at St Mary’s Church, Kidwelly we found another example, in a memorial set into the church wall, showing the characteristic scattering of shells.

St Mary’s Church, Kidwelly a grave slab in snowdrop marble set in the church wall

These slabs, when new and highly polished must have stood out in the graveyards much as  the impermeable Indian black granite memorials do today among the less showy slate and stone.  Only indoors can snowdrop marble survive the ravages of time.  As a material for a modern worktop Snowdrop Marble would be beautiful, but it would be vulnerable to etching by lemon juice or vinegar in the kitchen.  Nonetheless it is a pity that  this distinctive Welsh stone is no longer produced for ornamental purposes.

 

Coming next:  Halkyn Marble, another distinctive Welsh marble from the north!

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