Here is a handsome notice which stands at the entrance to St Marcella’s (Llanfarchell) Parish Church on the outskirts of Denbigh. So what is so wrong with play? Any sort of play? Indeed what is wrong with enjoyment on consecrated ground?
Forbidding sign in St Marcella’s Churchyard, Denbigh exhorts: DO NO HARM. DO NOT PLUCK THE FLOWERS. DO NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO PLAY
St Marcella’s Parish Church, also known as Whitchurch or Eglwys Wen is just east of the fortified town of Denbigh
It is well worth overlooking this bleak notice to penetrate this, the grandest of Denbighshire’s medieval churches. Inside its double nave are reminders of Elizabethan exuberance and of the wealthy and fecund family whose tendrils extend to Cardiganshire, to London and to Chirk Castle. Here is a monumental brass plaque portraying Richard Myddlelton ( who died in 1575) along with his wife and their seven fashionably dressed daughters and nine sons. They are of interest to Cardiganshire historians because one of these sons, Hugh Myddleton was the first great exploiter of the Cardiganshire Mines through leases granted to him in 1617 by James I. Sir Hugh Myddleton had attracted the King’s patronage through an extraordinary civil engineering project, the construction of ‘The New River’ a 38 miles canal cum aqueduct which brought clean water into London from springs at Chadwell and Amwell through Stoke Newington and Hackney to Clerkenwell. Sir Hugh leased Lodge Park, the Gogerddan hunting lodge from Sir John Pryse, and died there in 1631.
One of Hugh Myddleton’s daughters, Hester, became wife of Sir Richard Pryse of Gogerddan, who was made 1st Baronet in 1641. (Also see letterfromaberystwyth May 14, 2013)
Another Myddleton woman, Jane, had married the powerful Sir John Salusbury and they are commemorated after his death in 1578 by a magnificent painted alabaster tomb celebrating their fecundity. On one side of the box-shaped tomb are nine sons, eight in armour and one a cleric, while the other side shows four daughters: two fine ladies in ruffs and two swaddled, to indicate their death in infancy.
Alabaster tomb of Sir John Salusbury and his wife Jane
The four daughters of Sir John and Lady Jane Salusbury, two represented as grown women, two swaddled.
The life-size figures lying on the top of the tomb are meticulously represented. Sir John in armour is equipped with sword on the right, and gloves and helmet at his feet. The hunting knife at his left is complete with a miniature knife and fork set nestled in its scabbard a sort of Elizabethan Swiss army knife! His wife in her high ruffed dress lies like a doll, the soles of her feet neatly framed by the ruffles of her voluminous petticoats.
Lady Salusbury’s feet
Two very disreputable fat little male nudes support the crest in the panel at her feet. I’d like to know more about what these figures represent. They look very playful ( and not at all holy) to me. Perhaps someone among my readers can throw more light upon these ugly little men.
At the foot of the tomb, the family crest is supported by two fat frolicking hominids
Before the show opens, stewards calculate the number of points scored by winning contestants at the Llanfarian Show
The Vegetables occupy a separate tent
This is a part of the world where, bucking the trend, the Village Horticultural Show is alive and well, as it has been for most of the last century. It is an extraordinary co-operative effort which unites communities. Everyone has a vital part to play: Committee, competitors, judges, spectators. For just two hours or so a thousand or more exhibits are collected under a marquee or village hall roof, and then, tea taken, the prizes distributed, and old friendships renewed, the whole is dispersed once again leaving no imprint other than the carefully assembled list of winners in the following week’s paper.
I judged the Flowers at Llanfarian Show last Saturday.
It is a heavy responsibility. For me the morning began at 11-30am when I presented myself at the primary school to join eleven other specialist judges, many accompanied by their husbands or wives. We sat on the miniature pupils’ chairs and consumed ham salad with hard boiled egg, coleslaw, beetroot and pickles and thiny sliced brown bread, trifle and strong tea. Conversation was sporadic and a little tense. Judges are mainly recruited from a little farther away, so they know each other less well than the Stewards, all locals who, having presided over the staging of the competitors’ entries, congregate on a separate table for their meal at noon. Judges are also tense at their impending responsibility, some are faced with ranking the merits of widely diverse objects, ( Any item in Applique, An Item of Pottery) others with judging the quality of a slew of extremely similar cakes, jams or flowers. Entries must be rigorously as per schedule – woe betide the judge who fails to notice that an extra bloom found its way into the class for six sweet peas, or who allows a Decorative dahlia to insinuate itself amongst the entries in the Waterlily dahlia class!
The Floral Art judge has perhaps most to fear. Tradition demands that she produce a written critique of each exhibit, which is propped up for all the public to read during the afternoon. These critiques are traditionally encouraging in tone, but nonetheless must expose weaknesses in order that basis for winning entries is generally understood. And the first prize may not go to the arrangement most pleasing to the untutored eye, but to the one most interpretative of the arrangement’s set title. Little wonder that we judges scurry home before the competitors stream in at 2-30pm.
Many locals enter just a few classes with their home grown produce, for the fun of the chance of a prize, but there are also the titans of the show bench who compete at a local show almost every weekend of the summer season, and whose targets are the cups. Special Cups for most points in a class may be won outright through three consecutive wins ( or five spread over time). The big names in local showing have display shelves at home crammed with trophies, some on one year placement, many others won outright, their gleaming sides inscribed with the names of the annual winners of their past. Other cups are Perpetual Cups, returned every season to their awarding show.
The Cups, some are awarded annually, others can be one outright for repeated winners.
One such competitor is Buddug Evans, whose carefully managed garden yields roses, gladioli, geraniums, african marigolds, spray chrysanthemums, petunias, pansies, sweet peas, asters, dahlias and potted plants just as the show schedule demands. It is among the dahlias that competition is particularly hot. Half the length of the hall is devoted to competition in seven distinct subgroups of dahlias, glorious matched trios of strong straight blooms staged in the tall green metal vases which professionals favour. There were up to eight good entries in each of the dahlia classes, so she did not go unchallenged by other skilled growers. Beating Buddug in any contested category has become a target in itself. For total points she was the clear winner.
The Flower Section, dominated by seven classes of dahlias and three of chrysanthemums
At the end of awarding thirty Firsts, Seconds and Thirds in 30 Classes it fell to me to select the Best Exhibit from among the Firsts. Often this falls to trio of dahlias or to a gigantic single chrysantheum bloom the size of a newborn baby’s head. But this year, among the entries in Class 60, ‘Vase of Garden Flowers from Own Garden’ nestled an outstanding fanned display of huge creamy gladiolus spikes, the smaller gladiolus ‘Dancing Queen’ with red blotched throats, creamy decorative dahlias, pure white ball dahlias, spray chrysanthemums and huge white snapdragons. Judging is done while the competitors’ cards are concealed, so it was the final revelation to turn over the label and find this blaze of perfection, and worthy winner of the Best Exhibit Perpetual Cup was the work of another veteran competitor Gwyn Williams.
Best Exhibit – Gwyn Williams’ garden flowers
I left as Councillor Rowland Jones of Llanilar arrived to open the Show, and the public, including Ceredigion MP Mark Williams and his family arrived to scrutinise the tables. I passed the winning exhibit in Class 126 Best Misshapen Vegetable where it lay outside the tent. If winner, farmer Ieuan Jones plans a long flight or coach journey, it seems he has grown the ideal marrow!
The winner in ” Misshapen Vegetable” was Ieuan Jones
A banner commemorating Mabel Pakenham Walsh Photo by Keith Morris
Mabel Pakenham Walsh has been part of the Aberystwyth scenery since the 1980s.
She was always to be seen, around the town or crossing the road near her home in Llanbadarn Village. I remember her walking with sticks, effortfully and painfully slow, and then some years later, after her hip replacements, whizzing around the town with a wheeled shopper-cum-walking frame, her legs powering away like Sonic the Hedgehog. As part of her health regime she swam regularly, and I remember the surprise I felt on first seeing the contrast between her ruddy weathered face and the youthfully smooth white skin of her body.
It was beautiful skin and others must have admired it. There is at least one nude portrait of her which I have seen displayed in the National Library Wales.
For Mabel was both an artist and an artist’s model. There are three of her oil paintings in the collections of the National Library of Wales, two self portraits in her thirties, and a head and shoulders of a saturnine man, identified as J. Warburton. In their collections she has also deposited several boxes of letters from the 1960s to the 1980s which include correspondence with many arts organisations, and with friends and artists including Martin Leman, Maeve Peake, Lord Snowdon, the writer Tom Stoppard, and the wife of the then Archbishop of York, Jean Coggan.
She was a prolific woodcarver, gardener, and proper eccentric. The photographer Homer Sykes recorded the thirty-eight year old Mabel, then resident in Sussex carving one of a series of ornamented toilet seats.
Mabel Pakenham-Walsh, Artist, woodcarver and painter in 1975, carving one of her wooden toilet seats.
She was not rich, but she had original artworks in her home and she was often strikingly dressed. I remember startling hats, and a complicated tweed skirt and jacket, fashioned of many fragments of material cleverly joined, but with the raw edges protruding at the seams. She wore such costumes with great panache.
I got to know her through the gardening club, the rather grandly named Cardiganshire Horticultural Society. Her last lover ( husband?) had also been a member of the CHS, Peter Hague, a loquacious compulsive hoarder whose home up in the hills near Ystrad Meurig was, by his own estimation a graveyard for every piece of rusted machinery he could acquire, and intended, one day, to fix. When I knew him she had moved out to the relative comfort of her terraced house on Heol y Llan, not far from the vet’s in Llanbadarn. He was a gentle man, a compulsive talker, who fed himself largely out of tins. He was known to those with deeper roots than mine as the brother of the formidable Douglas Hague of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments.
Some 15 years ago a remarkable sculpture appeared in one of ancient apple trees which protrude above the wall shielding the backs of these gardens from the widened Llanbadarn Road. It was a huge wooden spider’s web made of twigs, with a realistic rubber spider at its centre. From a passing car or bus it looked very striking. It was in quest of this landmark in the days when I wrote a column for the local paper, The Cambrian News, that I eventually found my way to the front door of Archnoa on Heol y Llan. . A house whose windowsill assemblage of rocks, shells and objets trouve suggested eccentricity within. I was not disappointed.
So I am saddened to learn that Mabel, aged 76 has died. With the panache which characterised her life, her friends and relatives ( she told me she had a houseful of kin in Ireland) assembled round an impromptu blaze on Aberystwyth’s North Beach, and, as the sun went down, her cremated remains and flowers were scattered in the sea at dusk.
Friends of Mabel Pakenham Walsh gather in the firelight on North Beach, Aberystwyth
Photographer Keith Morris attended the occasion and the complete set of pictures may be viewed on his Facebook page. A touching detail he records is the rustic picture frame placed beside the disposable red plastic cremation urn. It displays the words : Well behaved women rarely make history.