Remembering Tabernacle Chapel

It is not often you see a listed building smashed to dust in front of your very eyes.

The 11th of July 2008 was such a day though, on which we stood and watched with disbelief as the largest demolition crane ever seen in Aberystwyth methodically chomped its way through the burnt shell of this landmark chapel crammed into the sloping plot between Mill Street and Powell Street.

The chapel was a huge building, its curved gallery of pitch pine seating supported by elegantly fluted  iron columns.  It had long lost a viable congregation, though I remember attending a big school carol service there in the 1980s. While an undeniable hulk dominating the town, its fine interior, and the portentious facade at the Powell Street end had contributed to its listed status and its eventual downfall.  Saving these features and creating a sympathetic conversion to flats at the same time would have been a considerable challenge. Planning permission for such a scheme was granted, but work never began.

On the preceding Friday in July the empty building had caught fire, and although only metres from the fire station its roof was soon well alight. By morning, the smoke scarred windows and collapsing roof ridge caused the closure of the nearby roads to traffic.

The fire damaged building

The Calvinistic Methodist Tabernacle Chapel, built in 1878 and gutted by fire 130 years later

The following Friday the gigantic crane began at the Mill Street end reaching great clawfuls of masonry with the grab on its telescopic arm and advancing inexorably through the building.  The tiers of seating, the elegant metal pillars, the pitch pine interior were all soon reduced to a tangled mass under the caterpillar tracks of the machine.

The Powell Street facade was especially grand, and almost independent of the rest of the barn-like structure.  Here it was not rendered but built of dressed local stone, with pillars, balusters, and seven tall round-topped windows and lintels of Cefn Sandstone from Ruabon  stone.  It seemed untouched by the fire.  By the early afternoon, only this facade, and the return walls built in the same material still stood.  Naively we assumed this would remain and could still front the eventual conversion and retain a little historic character in this part of the town. To the side of this facade, and enclosed by substantial arrow headed iron railings was a tiny shady patch of grass, barely a garden.  This had been one of Aberystwyth’s secret spaces. For in the centre of the little lawn was a plinth on which stood a bronze statue of a  winged youth, with a laurel wreath on his curls and a bundle of ragged palm leaves cradled on his arm.  His foot balanced on a sphere of bronze and on this sphere are engraved in bold capitals the names of fourteen men.  These were the members of Tabernacle chapel killed in the First World War.  Like the monumental town memorial, this graceful piece was also the work of Mario Rutelli.  By the morning of 11 July 2008 it had been removed from the site.

The demolition crane just kept on working its way through the building.  Effortlessly it reached up from the old chapel floor to grasp the towering pediment of the Powell Street entrance and casually brought it crashing to the ground.  Methodically it tugged off the coping stones of the parapet. The immaculate turned stone balusters snapped like so many broken teeth.  Then it chomped up the chimneys at the two corners, the seven elegant first floor windows, the little balcony over the sturdy pillared portico.  The massive freestone quoins of the corners were the hardest to shift and among the last stones standing.  Supported on the inside by the two chimneys these massive corners would surely have braced the facade.  Finally there was just the ground floor with its three tall doorways and four windows standing.  And when these crashed to dust the workmen carried away the white-lettered Tabernacle board and gave it to a neighbour as a souvenir.

For a brief period we thought the Powell Street Facade would be retained


The demoliton crane soon nibbled away the facade

The massive quoins and chimney corners were difficult to demolish

A new view opened up towards Penparcau. The railings of the little War Memorial garden remained.

Finally the Tabernacle board is given away as a souvenir

That night the crane left town, and a great gap allowed a view from Powell Street out to the hills of Penparcau.  The site was soon surrounded by high fencing and the wreckage was gradually carried away.  The little garden is a forlorn tangle of brambles now.

Rutelli’s pretty monument eventually found a refuge in the Ceredigion Museum, eight sturdy volunteers carried it up the stairs and strapped it to a pillar of the Coliseum where it can be admired today amongst the varied exhibits.   The accompanying information sheet states that the developers, Merlin Homes, intend to eventually restore him to his little garden at the corner of the site.  But there has so far been no development, and this summer will be five years since the fire.

Rutelli’s statue now resides in the  Ceredigion Museum

For Ceredigion Museum visit




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More on Rutelli’s sculptures

by The Curious Scribbler

I’ve had a lot of interesting comments arising from the blogs on Rutelli’s Aberystwyth war memorial sculptures. In this town we like our handsome nude woman, and people often stop to take her photograph.  She is more eyecatching than the traditional assemblage of weapons or the lone and gloomy soldier of so many other towns.

It was a real find to discover she also exists in a garden in Rome ( see Truth comes out of the Bushes) .  But as correspondent ‘dredwina’ points out, it is not unusual in the 20th century  to make five or six editions of a bronze, declaring them at the outset, but not actually creating them all until buyers turn up.  Just as there are at least three Rutelli winged victories in the world, there are, for example, two locations where Churchill and Roosevelt chat upon a bench. Spotting the duplicates could become an absorbing hobby.

The original model, however, was a one-off and  sources have come up with several  oral histories on the subject.  Helen Palmer  writes:- I had a story that the model for the busty lass was a Belgian girl who – as a very elderly lady – visited Aberystwyth some time in the 1980s, but I cannot remember the source and maybe it was all baloney!

While historian Gerald Morgan had a slightly different version – When showing a group around Aberystwyth I was told that the naked lady had been modelled on the wife of a local shopman, Ernie’s Chips or some such, and that as an old lady she had returned to Aberystwyth in the ?1990s and been interviewed by the Cambrian News! Again, I’ve never checked it out!!

Possibly these are both spurious claims.  More likely the girl in question was in Rome, and since she would have been  at least 16 when she modelled she must have been extremely old by the 1990s!

By contrast ‘Tone’s account of repairing the part-severed head of Edward Prince of Wales on the seafront stands up to robust scrutiny. ” At the time when I was employed as a Art/Ceramics technician at the then Visual Art Dept. Llanbadarn Road, on more than one occasion I had to travel to the “Old College” to repair Edward’s neck as an attempt was made to remove his head at the end of the academic year by, it was said, students from Pantycelyn Halls of Residence.
He wasn’t a tall prince, though could be described as handsome, It was an easy to repair as I could reach the damaged area without the aid of steps.
Although as you say “seldom remarked upon” he is certainly marked upon by the use of the hacksaw!

I climbed up the plinth to verify, and established both that Tone is a good deal taller than myself, and that the repaired hacksaw groove on the back of the neck is plain to see.

The green line of corrosion marks the repair to the Prince’s neck

I don’t think we will find other editions of this sculpture tucked away incognito.  It is generally understood to be the only life-size bronze of Edward VIII anywhere.  His abdication in favour of marrying Wallis Simpson put paid to what might otherwise have beena lustrous career in commemorative statuary.

Statue of Edward Prince of Wales at Old College Aberystwyth

Edward Prince of Wales, Chancellor of the University College of Wales 1922, by Mario Rutelli

Arthur Chater also comments  “And I believe that students once sawed off, or tried to saw off, his head. There is certainly a nasty scar on the side and back of his neck. The statue as a whole is rather good I think, with a nice art nouveau trail to his gown, but the face is appallingly weak – maybe though this is in fact a perceptive insight into Edward’s character on the part of Rutelli?”

His gown is indeed very fine, and richly ornamented.  His face looks strangely faun like, though it is true that in photos as a young man his tip tilted nose and and boyish look is indeed apparent.  If this was modelled in 1922 he was less than 28 when the likeness was taken.

A close up of Edward's face

Detail of Edward Prince of Wales, a likeness from or before 1922

The Prince of Wales photographed by Hugh Cecil Saunders in 1925

Speaking of fauns, Mary Burdett Jones has reminded me that I have so far neglected Rutelli’s first commission in Aberystwyth, the war memorial to 10 members of the Tabernacle chapel who died in the First World War.  Tabernacle Chapel?  Yes, that is another story…

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On choosing a gardener, an employer or a mate

by the Curious Scribbler

My perusal of The Gardeners’ Magazine for December 1943 reveals some advice, from a Thomas Jones of London (a Welshman I suspect), entitled Phrenology for Gardeners and their Patrons.  Mankind has always deceived itself into believing that inspection of the physiognomy will reveal the secrets of the inner self.  If only it were true, surely tricksters, burglars and murderers would have been long since weeded out of the population?

Nonetheless this article, and the accompanying illustrations ( engraved for our education at the author’s expense) caused me quiet amusement.

Figures 129 and 130 illustrate the physiognomy desirable in an employer, should a gardener be fortunate enough to have a choice of situations.  Jones tells us “it might be useful to know that all other circumstances such as duty, wages, prospects &c., alike, the lord or the lady with a broad full chest, broad erect forehead, and not much exceeding middle size (fig. 129) will naturally be the most kind and generous to them…  An intelligent gardener would not willingly choose to live with a master having narrow shoulder and a contracted chest (fig. 130).”

Engraving in The Gardener’s Magazine, December 1843

Funnily enough the gentleman on the right is the one who more closely resembles the 21st century vision of Mr Darcy!

A further pair of images explains the importance of The Facial Angle.  Our well-informed gardener would not willingly choose to work for an employer with a defective facial angle – a sloping brow and receding chin ( fig. 131).  Such flaws would also be undesirable in an employee.   However a  gardener contemplating an employer might take the risk after all, because “the inestimable blessing of education, and the intercourse of high and polished society, neutralise or counteract the former to such a degree as to put its possessor almost on a footing with the man of native strength of mind”. Chinlessness then, is an insuperable defect in a gardener, but may be overlooked in a well-educated member of the landed classes!

Engraving in The Gardener’s Magazine, December 1843

Thomas Jones moves on to wider implications:    “If this kind of knowledge is of importance to a gardener or an employer, it is of still greater importance to him in the choice of a wife.  Nothing good is to be expected from an uneducated woman, unless she has an ample chest and attenuated extremities.”  Expanding his theme he writes: “All other things being equal, a man should make choice of a wife whose form and extremities come as close as possible to those of the Venus de Medicis ( fig. 133) and a woman should choose a husband of a form, and with extremities, coming as near as possible to those of the Apollo Belvedere ( fig. 134).  Full sized statues of these models of beauty and perfection ought to be in every garden, and in the hall of every gentleman’s house: casts of them ( which may be had perfect of their kind at 7s each),  on the chimney piece of every cottage as a beau idéal to operate on the imagination.”

Engraving in The Gardener’s Magazine, December 1843

Jones also deplores the eugenic impact of  prolonged war, quoting an article in the Annales de la Hygiène Publique, which asserts that wars tend to degenerate the human race by killing off the tallest healthiest men without their leaving offspring.  It would be best, says Jones, to select for soldiers none but little men.

Classical statuary is not uncommon in historic gardens.  Hitherto I saw it as merely as ornament, the focal point of a view. In the light of Thomas Jones it can be reappraised as a manifesto commending the coupling of tall athletic men with young women possessed of ample bosoms and long feet.



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The Trials of Spam

by The Curious Scribbler

As a blogger it is really exciting to get a reply or  email from a real reader adding to a story, like Tone’s account of how the Welsh Nationalist students  tried to sever the bronze head of the first Vice Chancellor of the University because he was an English king ( albeit briefly)  Edward VIII.  Or Kate’s link to Robert Parnall  of Llanstephan,  one of her ancestors in Carmarthenshire. Or indeed nice comments from people with nothing to sell.

But there is a blight upon bloggers which makes one foam at the mouth.  The parasites, trying to get publicity for their dodgy merchandising sites, too idle or illiterate even to write a relevant sentence as a vehicle to which to attach the website address of their wares.

Some send in a generic comment which appears badly written but superficially flattering:

You made some decent points there. I looked on the net for the problem and discovered most individuals will go along with your site.
You have a terrific blog here! would you like to create some invite posts on my blog?


Nice post. I find out something more difficult on unique blogs everyday. It’s going to often be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice just a little something from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my blog no matter whether you do not mind. Natually I’ll give you a link on your web weblog. Thanks for sharing.

These were both in response to the post ‘What is a Lhasa Apso?’ A bit odd, but believable, until you realise the correspondent is actually peddling a link selling American football jerseys!

A regular offender wants you to buy cheap Ugg boots in the USA and Argentina:

This seriously answered my issue, thank you!

I discovered your weblog web-site on google and check some of your early posts. Continue to maintain up the extremely great operation. 

Time and again I consign this author to trash.

Or having read about the Aberystwyth war memorial another ‘reader’ replies

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Possibly the fake branded sunglasses are so black the author can neither read nor write!

And in the complete gibberish category comes this:

Stay above clothes. I would say some sort of added benefits of perhaps may be two-Flip the; You’ll not be be trying late deal for garments to pack it and you could not be posting mafia among solely 1 set of training pants resulting in nil stockings.


You will not even need to take moth golf tennis baseprojectiles of keeping pestilence removed from your material, Several portable content since the event could be gives people like and/or snaps. When you purchase fluids above the protection gate, You should bring regarding on the airplane.

Both of which comments would give links to Louis Vuitton Bags  and Emporio Armani Watch Mall.

Less easy to spot was Phillip, who wrote

Your post, 1807 entry pass for David Lewis | Letter from Aberystwyth, is really well written and insightful. Glad I found your website, warm regards from Phillip!

Who wouldn’t experience a momentary warm glow?  But to approve this comment would furnish my readers with nine links to American social networking, job seeking, brand buying, property selling and joke purveying sites.  Nine of them in all.  Phillip, I will survive without your fake praise!

Why do they keep on sending this nonsense, when it never reaches the readership?  Surely they understand that the author of a blog can approve, or reject any comment?  What the author cannot do is to expurgate their comment and remove the marketing content.  But I can clip out their comments and republish them in my own blog, for the enjoyment of those who would wish to remind themselves how many fools there are in the digital world. And I have found in the dross a valuable expression  –  a single phrase from the multitude which describes exactly what I am doing – “keeping pestilence removed from my material.”


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