Upfest at Tanybwlch?

by The Curious Scribbler

Tanybwlch beach, looking north to Aberystwyth

Inspired by the video I described in the preceding blog, I walked Tanybwlch beach again yesterday, enjoying the blazing sun and balmy breeze. The sea was almost waveless, clear and the deepest blue, and the shore, as usual, was almost deserted.  I saw a family at the water’s edge, and a couple of people walking their dogs, and I passed one man who was seated watching his three terriers each of which was energetically digging its own hole in the sand.  The sea, cracked only by a single ripple approaching the shore, looked like shot silk.

Three digging dogs

The graffiti artists on the concrete sea wall have been back and have further embellished the design which appeared on the drone video I had watched.  The letters NHS are no longer brutalist boxy letters, now sporting serifs and curliques of a playful nature.  The seated figure, on closer inspection, is a dead-eyed Boris debating whether or whether not to save the NHS.  To the right are a series of weird heads, two gowned and masked blue front-liners, and then a group perhaps the public, some in outline,  one with a covid mask.  There is more wall yet to be painted, I think there is more work to be done there.

Graffiti at Tanybwlch beach

Graffiti at Tanybwlch beach

The right-hand end of the mural, yet to be coloured in?

The whole mural at Tanybwlch beach, possibly yet to be completed

It seems surprising now, that no-one has formerly set about embellishing this long wall.  Here is a canvas comparable with some of the large murals created for the Upfest Festival in Bristol, and like many of those, it is on a topical theme.  I have just noticed that the latest Upfest, which brings together British and international artists, was scheduled to take place this weekend,  30 May- 1 June 2020.   I presume that like everything else, it has been postponed, though this is not confirmed on their website.

This blog has previously reported from Upfest, and I hope to go again.

 

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Tanybwlch – A Historic Video

by The Curious Scribbler

Day 67 of lockdown – the days have become a bit of a blur.  Like a soothing nature programme, the past two months have been generally beautiful, with startlingly clear skies, lovely wildflowers, continuous birdsong.  Too continuous even, I sometimes wish that the monotonous chiffchaffs would give it a rest.

My walks start from my front door, and lead me to Tanybwlch beach, Pendinas, Penparcau and Llanfarian along the footpaths and cycle paths.  I am so fortunate to have such an amazing landscape within easy reach.    Today I found a newly posted video on You Tube  named Aberystwyth in the SKY Tan Y Bwlch which gave me great delight.  Here  is a tranquil 4 minutes of a birds-eye view of my entire domain, shot during lockdown on one of the many still days when the sea barely sucks at the shore, the sun blazes down, and people, so few and far between, are visible here and there.  There are no cars in the Tanybwlch car park (a consequence of the concrete roadblock erected in late March), no contrails in the sky.  We may look back with nostalgia on this creepily empty scene when normal life is resumed.

I am pleased that the photographer has briefly included a child and a dog, (presumably his or her own) enjoying the shore.  Children have been out and about far too little during lockdown.   Joggers and cyclists have made the most of their freedoms, but to spy a child has been a rare sight on my walks.  Hopefully today’s announcement will empower more families to take their children out on our beaches.

At the very end of the film is the briefest glimpse of a huge new graffito on the concrete barrage where the Ystwyth turns northwards.  The brutalist blue capitals contrast with the human depicted on the left, a figure more typical of the ethos of the beach.

A screen grab from the video

It would be very visible from the sea: were anyone out there to view it.

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Three thousand years of Archaeology

by The Curious Scribbler

I had an enjoyable day at the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth on Saturday, at the Archaeology Day organized by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust.  The remit of archaeologists today stretches from the very ancient to the extremely recent,  and this was reflected in the range of talks.  The morning started with the archaeology of yesterday while by the afternoon we were taken back three thousand years to the beginning of the first millienium BC.

Alice Pyper had been having fun exploring the archaeology of Llyn y Fan Fach, the glacial lake which now supplies Llanelli with a clean water supply.  It was not always thus: the water system was built by conscientious objectors during the first world war.   Some thirty of them were compelled to live in two drafty huts  at 1200 feet above sea level to work on the project.  Field archaeology involved excavating and recording the footings of these huts. Documentary sources including newspapers and humorous sketches by the objectors fleshed out the story.  This workforce was of Englishmen who had already served time in prison for refusing to fight.  Michael Freeman pointed out that in Wales objectors were less harshly treated, and that most of the thirty conscientious objectors in Ceredigion were not imprisoned and were allowed to keep their jobs.

Also representing the very recent past is the built heritage of the 20th century.  Susan Fielding of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales treated us to photographs of a splendid succession of architectural gems or carbuncles, some listed, others already demolished.  The architects of the Percy Thomas Partnership ( familiar to us here for much of the Penglais Campus) kept cropping up, with Harlech College, Trinity Chapel at Sketty, and the soon-to-be-demolished Broadcasting House at Llandaff, all redolent of the 1960s.   The Prestatyn Holiday Camp ( 1935) and the Rhyl Sun Centre (1980) have both gone, both extravagant expressions of their times, and dear to many people’s holiday reminiscences.


Rhyl Sun Centre by Gillinson Barnett & Partners
Source:Architectural Press/Archive RIBA Collections

The Shire Hall in Mold, dubbed Britain’s leading ugliest building, and the Wrexham Police station are brutalist buildings which will perhaps not be mourned too much.  Still standing, and crying out for a role in a brooding  TV Drama is Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones at Amlwch – one of the very first 1950s comprehensive schools.

Less is sometimes more, and it was strangely gratifying to learn from Clwyd-Powys Archaeologist Paul Belford that we really don’t know whether Offa’s Dyke has a great deal to do with King Offa, when it was built, or quite what it was for!  Opportunities to excavate this world heritage site are few and far between, but one did arise from the actions of a Chirk man who bulldozed 50 yards of it in order to build a stable. ( His ignorance of its historic significance saved him from prosecution in 2014).  Perhaps this vibe for vandalism is in the air around Chirk.  Paul showed us a lidar image of the grounds of Chirk castle.  In the 17th century Landscape Architect William Emes flattened much more than 50 yards of it to create smooth parkland, and submerged a further length of it in an ornamental lake!

Low water levels in 2018 revealed Offa’s Dyke in the lake at Chirk Castle. Picture: The Shropshire Star

Two afternoon sessions concerned the days of the iron age hillfort, a period lasting from at least 1000 years BC.  Hillforts are scattered like measles across the whole of the map of Wales, and with techniques of  aerial photography and lidar more are still being discovered.  Either they are on hilltops with ridge fortifications all the way round, or they are promontory hill forts, situated on the edge of a cliff or at the confluence between two valleys such that fortifications are not needed at the steeper sides.  The archaeologists have been seeking evidence both within the enclosures, where  groups of round houses were situated, and outside them where burials, and farming actvities took place.  Ken Murphy rounded off the day with an account of the iron age chariot burial discovered last autumn in a field not far from a hillfort at an undisclosed location in west Pembrokeshire.  Being buried along with your two wheeled chariot and your horse requires a pretty extensive hole and this type of burial is well known from East Yorkshire. The chariot burial discovered at the evocatively named village of Wetwang, revealed the human skeleton curled  up between the wheels of his chariot, and the horse laid transversely at his head.  The limey soil chemistry in east Yorkshire does not dissolve the bones.

In the Welsh burial bronze fragments of the bit, bridle and horse ornaments testifies to the horse, and an iron sword to the warrior, but their bones are long dissolved.  The iron rims of the wheels and the imprint of the wooden chariot were found.  These items are undergoing conservation at the National Museum of Wales and will then be put on display.

Photo credit: Archaeologists exposing the wheels of the Pembrokeshire chariot.
 Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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Up the tower at Gelli Aur

by The Curious Scribbler

It seems to be my destiny to visit Gelli Aur ( Golden Grove) in the rain. Last week was my third visit in many years, and once again it poured.  Which was a pity because one of the anticipated high points was expected to be the view over the Tywyi Valley from the windows, or better still the roof.    Dryslwn Castle and Paxton’s tower lie to the west,  while Dynefwr Castle  should be visible to the north east,    Instead the distant views were lost in the mist.

Golden Grove mansion roof light above the main stairwell

 

Nonetheless it was a fascinating visit, for a small group of us were taken around the house, which was built 1826-34 for John Frederick Campbell, Lord Cawdor, to a design by Wyatville. Not his principal residence, ( which was Stackpole in Pembrokeshire)  but a summer retreat,  staffed all year round by as many as 55 house servants, but on full performance only for a few weeks of summer.  The proportions of the house reflect this, the grand rooms approached from the port cochère at the east end of the house  are not that numerous, while stretching away to the west is an extensive two-storey range  of servants’ rooms, and the stable courtyard  beyond that.  Unusually, the house faces north.. but this is the side with the long views, and north-facing was perhaps not such bad news during a hot summer.

Golden Grove mansion, the principal rooms are in the eastern end below the clock tower

After a disastrous decade of neglect and destruction the house and 100 acres of park now belongs to a Preservation Trust which has ambitious plans to create an art gallery and cultural centre there. One initiative already under way is the restoration of the clock which adorns the clock tower of the main house. New replica clock faces have already been prepared and a specialist clock restorer has been commissioned, one who is also working on Big Ben.

The Barwise Clock at Golden Grove

The clock is by Barwise of St Martin’s Lane, London, Chronometer, Watch and Clockmaker to His Majesty and the Royal Family, and dated 1832.  It stands in a large glazed cupboard with pulleys and levers reaching out in several directions.  I don’t pretend to understand exactly how it works, but it was clear to see the winding mechanism of three drums, round which ran the cables attached to three huge weights descending through neatly formed hatches in the floor of the tower.  A man with a crank handle would have had to regularly wind the clock, bringing the three big weights back up to the level of the clock.  This mechanism drove two clock faces on opposing sides of the tower, and three handsome bells which are attached to the outer wall of the clock tower.  ( I wonder what melody you can play on just three bells?  Probably the largest of the  three struck the hour.)

Golden Grove, one of the three weights driving the clock mechanism

The tower rises at the junction between the principal bedrooms and the servants’ wing, and the bells hang above the large glazed lantern which lights the grand stairs.  When operating, this handsome clock must have been more than audible to the grand occupants of the house.

The three bells on the tower. Golden Grove

The firm of Barwise existed from 1790 to 1855, and enjoyed greatest fame in the 1820s, it seems to have been best known for its pocket watches, long case and bracket clocks.  In an article on Barwise in the Antiquarian Horological Society journal we get just one glimpse of a clock similar to that at Golden Grove.  A correspondent to The Times 26 September 1855, described the scene after the Battle of the Great Redan, an engagement during siege of Sebastopol.    He wrote ” The Great Redan was next visited.  Such a scene of wreck and ruin! all the houses behind it a mass of broken stones – a clock turret, with shot right through the clock – a pagoda in ruins – another clock tower, with all the clocks destroyed save the dial, with the words Barwise London thereon“.

Golden Grove’s clock has lasted considerably better than that one. Perhaps some others are hidden away in English church towers:  there is at least one, at Clayworth St Peter, Notts, but that is a much more modest affair.

One regulator dial of the Barwise clock at Gelli Aur

Gelli Aur. The second regulator dials in the Barwise clock bears the date

The Barwise Clock at Golden Grove ( Gelli Aur)

 

 

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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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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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