Cunning techniques to sell a superfluous church?

by The Curious Scribbler

Walking along Queen’s Road these days one finds a strangely discordant sight, the 19th century Catholic Church, St Winefride’s, has suddenly found itself encased in security fencing and strident site warning signs.  Which is odd because the building is pleasing to look upon, with well tended lawns and a pretty Presbytery House, occupied until just a few months ago, which is framed in roses and hydrangeas.  It has always made an uplifting scene in this Conservation Area of Aberystwyth, the only building which is well set back, providing a green oasis of lawn.

Intimidating security fences have appeared around St Winefride’s Church

But all is not well in this idyllic spot, for the Catholic Bishop of Menevia is set upon dispensing with this church, much to the dismay of many of the parishioners, for whom it is of personal and cultural  importance. That very lawn is perhaps the key to its undoing, for the site of house, church and garden would accommodate a lucrative development of flats – (what is described in the application as a ‘Quality Mixed Residential Development’).  The Bishop plans to bring in the wrecking ball and demolish the lot.

The Presbytery and its pretty garden will be neglected until demolition can be secured.

The Council Planning Department however opposes the demolition of much-loved buildings in a Conservation Area, and the legislation suggests that before this course of action can be considered the owner must put the building up for sale to establish whether an alternative use can be found. And so it is shortly to be put up with a local Agent.  Now, while most people trying to sell a slightly shabby but charming building would try to emphasise its best points, it seems the Church has other ideas.  The security fencing is an eyesore, and erected as it is upon the lawn, the garden will soon be overgrown and ugly too.  The best outcome from the Bishop’s point of view would be to demonstrate that no buyer will match their price, and then re-apply for demolition.

The parishioners meanwhile have not been idling.  The Save St Winefride’s campaign has funded surveyors to consider the realistic costs of repairing a sound but somewhat elderly building, and have drawn up plans to renovate the buildings and build an additional Church Hall upon the site.  This design is unpretentious, sympathetic, and has been granted Planning Permission by the County Council.  The whole project would cost £1.2 million, far less than the £2.7 million estimated by the Bishop’s architects for their impossibly expensive version of the job.


So why not accept the wishes of the congregation?  The Bishop has an alternative plan, first promoted in 2008, centred upon a little-known ruin two miles from the town centre in the suburb of Penparcau.  Here is another Church, the far more neglected Welsh Martyrs.  A brutalist concrete structure from 1968, it has been closed for many years.  Few people have even noticed it, for it is down a side road near the Tollgate public house.  The new Pevsner described is as “an interesting design, let down by poor finish and detail”. The Bishop wants to pull that down too, and with more justification.

The derelict church of Welsh Martyrs, Penparcau. Photographed by Paul White,

The derelict church of Welsh Martyrs, Penparcau. Photographed by Paul White,


You could, alternatively, put a block of flats here, but Penparcau is not as sought-after as the town centre, the site is less valuable, and the profits would doubtless be less.  Instead, the vision is that Catholic worshippers from the town will take one of the rare Sunday buses out to Penparcau and walk down to a newly-built modernist building on the Welsh Martyrs site. It is hard to imagine that this will be a popular choice with worshippers.  University students, who include many foreign Catholics will have a yet more daunting journey from their halls of residence on the opposing hill.  Townsfolk who have been hatched, matched and dispatched at Queen’s Road for generations would like to go on doing so.

The repercussions continue from a well organised parishioner and community action group which has become more active and vociferous as it has found its views to be ignored by the Church.  There have been representations to the Vatican, consultations on Canon Law, opposing teams of surveyors and valuers, a sit-in in the church, an offer of resignation from the Board of Trustees by the incumbent priest.  The Diocese of Menevia, though, is a vast catholic administrative region – stretching right down to Swansea.  Angry Aberystwyth must seem very insignificant to a property-developer Bishop.

For much more detail visit which gives links to a Dropbox bulging with damning evidence of manipulation behind the scenes.

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The fury of one Welsh reviewer

by The Curious Scribbler

Among the papers belonging to Elisabeth Inglis Jones is the draft manuscript of a talk she was putting together in later years which reflects upon her career as a writer of novels, biographies and articles.  It includes reference to her last book on Augustus Smith of Tresco Abbey, so must have been delivered after 1969, when Miss Inglis jones would have attained seventy years of age.   It commences with  an account of her first novel,  set in her native Wales, and the bruising experience that it set in train.

It is best recorded in her own words. “In April 1929, Starved Fields came out, nicely bound in grey with green lettering.  But my joy and delight at seeing it in print was quickly obliterated by the storm which broke over my unhappy head.  The widely read South Wales newspaper, The Western Mail immediately launched a full page scarifying attack on the book and its author.  This did not gratify my parents who until then had been somewhat elated by my achievement.  Then when a favourable review appeared in our local paper it only served to spark off a spate of indignant letters – a correspondence which went on in print for some weeks, and was very embarrassing.  Worse still everybody began pinning names to my characters and one irate lady, an old family friend, wrote furiously to my mother saying the kindest thing to think of me was that I was suffering from a diseased mind.

Then suddenly the gales of wrath abated thanks to a certain Mr Herbert Vaughan, a very erudite man and the author of several books, who was related to a great many of our neighbours.  His tastes were wholly dissimilar to those of his Cardiganshire cousins who held him in great respect.  He had been much amused by Starved Fields and wrote me a very kind and encouraging letter, besides broadcasting his praise of it to all and sundry.  Coming from such a literary authority as he was, his relations had to pipe down and we were soon on good terms again…”

Herbert Vaughan  had himself published, three years earlier The South Wales Squires (Methuen 1926)  an anecdotal history which had also been ill received locally because of the eccentricities he revealed.  However he was of consequence in the region  and had held the honour  of High Sheriff of Cardiganshire in 1916, so his dismissal of the Western Mail’s  as ‘spiteful and misleading’ will indeed have carried some weight.

It led me to spend a fruitful afternoon winding through microfilms of the Western Mail in the National Library of Wales in search of this offended and offending review.

The reviewer was Frederick J Mathias and the piece is entitled:  A new writer on a Queer Wales.  His first priority was to identify the new novelist – “Miss Elizabeth Inglis Jones …. Her story mainly concerns two unkempt Cardiganshire mansions and their derelict and generally disgusting inhabitants.”   It is significant that Elizabeth and her publisher had not sought to make her gender obvious, for in the book her byline is E. Inglis Jones.  Initials, or an ambiguous cognomen were a common stratagem by which women authors sought to receive a more serious hearing.  At a similar time Somerville and Ross ( Experiences of an Irish RM) built a loyal readership of many years before they revealed themselves to be women.

So the odium of writing about flawed Welsh characters is compounded by the revealed identity of the author, and the Western Mail, untypically for a book review, included a head shot of Miss Inglis Jones to press the matter home.  After a series of quotations from the book, Mathias concluded “In short in this book Welsh people are not allowed to speak or eat or look or live like ordinary persons.  One poor man was even short because he was only five foot nine: surely the tall men must be giants in Tregaron.  The story begins in 1896 and yet its barbarism suggests a prehistoric age.  This is a pity because with her clever pen Miss Inglis Jones might have created a precedent by doing justice to Wales, instead of providing a  sensation for the amusement of her English friends.”  In a final flourish the enraged Mathias declared “The Tragedy of Wales is that Thomas Hardy was not a Welshman”.

It is difficult not to picture Frederick Mathias as a short, angry, racist Welshman.  He even objected in his synopsis of plot that “The only real gentlemen who appear in the book are Englishmen”.   Which is unnecessarily huffy since Inglis  Jones’  Englishmen may be politely spoken, and tall,  but they  are unexciting and spineless creatures who get discarded by the women they court.

The publishers, Constable,  responded by placing a  large advertisement amongst the following week’s book reviews – A Welsh novel by  Welsh author – and an extract from a favourable review.

The publishers, Constable placed an advertisement in 18th April 1929 with a view to countering the damning review in the previous week’s paper.

This advertisement also throws light upon the confusing question of Miss Inglis Jones’ given name.  Was she Elizabeth with a z or Elisabeth with an s?  Readers of Peacocks in Paradise, who are the most numerous of her present-day fans, will know her with an s.  But inspection of her early titles shows that in her first few novels, Starved Fields (1929),  Crumbling Pageant (1932) and Pay thy Pleasure (1939) she was Elizabeth with a z.  And her supporters and critics in 1929 addressed letters to her as Elizabeth.  It seems that not long after moving permanently to London, she adopted the more distinctive spelling by which she is now generally known.

( Elizabeth Inglis Jones’ debut novel is described in the preceding blog)




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