The Nanteos Racehorses

William Edward Powell was one of the more colourful squires of Nanteos.  Born in  1788 the eldest son of Thomas Powell, his father had died when he was just nine years old.  After a bruising childhood educated at Westminster School and domiciled largely in London with his mother and younger siblings, he rapidly setting about making his mark on attaining his majority  on 16 February 1809. The young Captain in the Royal Horse Guards held a lavish coming of age party at Nanteos at which his mother and sisters were perforce absent, exiled by debt to Dublin.  In the preceding months he had been living it up in Bath, and sending for game from his estate to feed his guests. Gossip had already linked him to a beautiful young lady – one of a numerous family – and the Nanteos Agent Hugh Hughes recorded the rumour that Powell would be married by 16th February and that the Birthday would be also a wedding visit.

Within the year he had reclaimed management of the Nanteos estate, commissioned the valuation of the Nanteos plate   (1757 ounces of silver valued at £527.6s 10d) and  commissioned a handsome survey of the many Powell properties in Aberystwyth.  Demands on the estate included his mother’s substantial unpaid debts, amounting to £5,500  and the likely dowry requirements of his sister Elizabeth who would be owed £5000 at marriage or on attaining the age of 21. None of this deterred him from an early marriage, on 4 October 1810 to Laura Phelp, who was probably the sweetheart with whom his name had been linked the previous year. In the same year Laura’s brother Edward sought the hand of Powell’s sister Ellen Elizabeth, thus creating a second link between the impecunious Phelp family of Leicestershire, and the financially embarrassed Powells. They were married in 1811.

Recently come to light through the researches of a descendant of the animal artist Thomas Weaver are some letters from Powell’s father-in-law, Mr James Phelp to the artist.  On 29 July 1812 James Phelp wrote:

“I suppose you have heard that Captn Phelp is married to Miss Powell, a sister of his brother-in-law, a nice, sensible, agreeable young woman, and one I hope and trust will have a proper influence over him”

Reporting on his three unmarried daughters, Julia, Octavia and Fanny, he continued:  “Powell has taken the majority of Cardiganshire and is now with Fanny  at Lochrea Ireland. Julia and Octavia are at present on a visit near Bath. They were not at the Cardiff races which ended about ten days since and was numerously attended, although the sport was not good owing to the goodness of Powell’s horses, Banker and Ad Libitum. They won everything and are expected to do the Principality. I wish at the time we were at Hunters –  you could have contrived to have paid us a visit there as you was to have painted them and Prospero who is the finest horse I think in England if not in Europe”.

Nothing I have found in the Nanteos archive mentions Powell’s racehorses Banker and and Ad Libitum so we may speculate as to whether Powell’s investment in racing was prolonged or a success.  The tone of this letter implies that his horses were in fact too good for the Cardiff races, and so the betting was unexciting.  Prospero  may also have been Powell’s horse, or alternatively another horse which James Phelp greatly admired and wished his friend and protegee Weaver to paint.   I hope that a racing historian may eventually throw light upon these names.

William Edward Powell in costume of Lord Lieutenant of Cardiganshire

William Edward Powell in costume of Lord Lieutenant of Cardiganshire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is certain is that while Powell pursued the enthusiasms of a young gentleman of his class, his financial situation was extremely perilous, and remained so.  In February 1810 he had also received the nomination for High Sheriff of Cardiganshire, a post obliging the holder to entertain in lavish  fashion.  Powell’s lawyer was so alarmed at the prospect that he advised Powell to obtain notes from his physician and apothecary in support of his inability to do business of any kind.  Powell did not heed this advice and continued to duck and dive through the following years, neglecting his wife Laura, supporting a mistress, and consorting in the Prince Regent’s entourage in London.   In 1822 Laura died, and the next year Powell narrowly avoided bankruptcy, only by the sale of unentailed land in Montgomeryshire.

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Rutelli’s naked lady at Aberystwyth

by The Curious Scribbler

There have been several developments in the story of ‘Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War’,  the somewhat unexpected sculpture at the foot of Aberystwyth’s war memorial. ( search ‘Rutelli’ in earlier blogs to follow the story).  Through internet searches I had located an apparently identical sculpture, in Rome, which, according to Marco Demmelbauer, the restorer who had worked on her some twenty years ago, was called Verità esce dai rovi ( Truth emerges from the bushes).

Recently I had a message from Rome-based historian Nicholas Stanley Price who went in search of her at Via delle Quattro Fontane 18.  He reported instead that she is now to be found at Via delle Quattro Fontane 15,  next door to the Palazzo Barberini, home of the National Gallery of Art.   She is indoors now, in a hallway, and the context of the pictures reveal that rather than being a precise duplicate, Truth is half the size of Aberystwyth’s lusty Humanity.  Moreover there are some discernible differences, especially in the twiggy foliage from which the figure emerges.

Truth emerging from the Bushes, in the hallway of Via Quattro Fontane 18

Truth emerging from the Bushes, in the hallway of Via Quattro Fontane 15, Rome Photo Nicholas Stanley Price

 

 

 

Rutelli Truth emerging from the bushes 3

Truth emerging from the bushes. Rome. Photo by Nicholas Stanley Price

Now I have another correspondent, Alan Wynne Davies, who is off to Rome shortly to have a look at her.  I hope he may be able to throw light on that sculpture’s history.  I believe she was taken for restoration from an outdoor situation in the courtyard of a block of flats at No 15.  It would be nice to find out when she was actually commissioned, and whether the design follows or pre-dates the Aberystwyth nude which records show was being cast in Rome in April 1922 and shipped by Thomas Cook to Liverpool in  October 1922.

And in a separate strand, I was given the chance to follow up on a recurrent urban legend: that the Aberystwyth sculpture was modelled upon the wife of the proprietor of Ernie’s Fish bar in this town! The trail led to Nora James of Trefechan, a handsome elderly lady who is a local matriarch and daughter of the alleged model.  Mrs James’ mother  Maria Pelizza was married in Italy to Ernest Carpanini, an Italian who had worked in the restaurant and ice cream business in South Wales before the first world war.  Moving first to Llanelli, the young bride found herself by 1922 in Aberystwyth where her husband Ernest and his partner Joe Chiappa opened a chipshop called ‘Ernie’s’ by the town clock.  Maria spoke very little English and mainly worked in the kitchen, but both she, and the massive sculpture on the memorial were new to town, beautiful and Italian. Thus, I believe, the myth was born, perhaps as a tease by the customers.

Nora recollects that her mother always dismissed the allegation, and no member of the family supported the outrageous suggestion that she had ever modelled in the nude.  However the the myth was accommodated with the vague suggestion that someone “had got hold of a photo of her face” and that this likeness was reproduced.  More prosaically I think that the likeness was a coincidence born of the Italian features of Maria Pelizza and the Italian model in Rome.

Nora James, daughter of Maria Carpanini the alleged model for the Aberystwyth war memorial

Nora James, daughter of Maria Carpanini the alleged model for the Aberystwyth war memorial

Ernesto and Maria Carpanini founded an extensive Welsh family and most of  their grandchildren work in or around Aberystwyth.  It is a sad note that Nora recollects that her father, who was on account of his nationality interned on the Isle of Man for the entire second world war, returned home a shadow of his former self in 1945 and never fully regained his former spirits.

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Abraham Cooper RA

by The Curious Scribbler

Regular readers of this blog will know that I like a nice tabby cat.  So it is no surprise that I am charmed by this picture (below) of a cat, painted in 1817 by a largely self taught artist Abraham Cooper.  It is a small painting, less than 7 inches square which is in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.  The neatly in-turned paws, the sedate posture of watchful repose, the loving detail of the long guard hairs fringing the ears – this is a picture by someone who closely observes his cat.

A small oil painting by Abraham Cooper 1817 ( Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Abraham Cooper was the subject of a recent lecture to the Aberystwyth Bibliographical Group by Mary Burdett Jones.  He was born in 1787 the son of a London tobacconist, received a limited education, and commenced his working life aged 13 working in the equestrian circus Astley’s Amphitheatre, a venue which features in Dicken’s Old Curiosity Shop, and in Hard Times. The equestrian theatre was dangerous work, and by 1810 he was instead working as  a groom for Henry Meux, proprietor of a successful Brewery, and later Sir Henry Meux, 1st Baronet. It was at around this time that Cooper obtained a manual on the subject and taught himself to paint.  An early canvas was his portrait of one of his employer’s horses, which so pleased Henry Meux  that he bought it and encouraged the young man’s new career.  As a result Cooper then received some training in the studio of sporting painter Benjamin Marshall, and began to produce pictures which were reproduced as engravings in The Sporting Magazine. In 1812 the first of many paintings by Cooper was exhibited at The Royal Academy.

Like the cat, other surviving early works by Cooper faithfully describe the scenes a groom would encounter:  race horses, working horses, an old pony and dogs.

‘Scrub’ a shooting pony aged 30, and two Clumber Spaniels by Abraham Cooper 1815. ( National Trust)

The Day Family and their horses. Abraham Cooper 1838 (The Tate)

But as Mary pointed out, the future lay in the burgeoning reproduction industry of the 19th century as magazines and books increasingly published fine engravings copied from artists’ works. Cooper became adept at the imaginative scenes required by the publishers, his horse and dog expertise and background in theatre making him the ideal illustrator.  In 1828 Sir Walter Scott wrote the ballad The Death of Keeldar to accompany this picture by Cooper. It was published in ‘The Gem’  an annual publication for 1829.

The Death of Keeldar, depicted in The Gem, 1829

This ballad is one of the many workings of the traditional lament by which, by accident, or through a misunderstanding, a man kills his favourite dog.  A famous Welsh example of this genre is the death of Gelert, slaughtered by his master Llewellyn the Great in the mistaken belief that the dog has killed his child.

Cooper also diversified from straightforward horse portraiture into fantasy and historic battle scenes, for which he must have had to research the costumes but could rely on his extensive knowledge of the horse for depicting the fighting melee.

Oliver Cromwell leading his cavalry into battle. Abraham Cooper 1860 ( The Chequers Trust)

While relatively few people owned an original work, engravings of his pictures penetrated the national consciousness through magazines, books and printed plates designed to be framed and hung in middle class homes.  Those pictures which were engraved on wood may have no original, because in the 1840s it was common to paint directly onto the woodblock and thus destroy the picture in the process of engraving it.

Cooper’s commercial art took him far from that contented tabby cat and he is much better known for the image of Tam O Shanter escaping the scantily clad witch ( the Cutty Sark) by riding his heroic mare, Maggie over water.  Robert Burns’ poem was first published in 1791, and this picture was exhibited in 1813.  It is an image which, combining horsemanship with a saucy wench has been copied, engraved and reproduced ever since!

Tam O Shanter by Abraham Cooper 1813  ( Private Collection)

And why did the speaker chose Abraham Cooper as her subject?  Because he is one of her sixteen great great great grandfathers, and we live at a time when pulling together the threads of the past has never been easier.

 

The Aberystwyth Bibliographical Group:

http://users.aber.ac.uk/das/texts/aberbibgr1.htm

 

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The Joy of Cats ( episode 2)

by The Curious Scribbler

In November 2012 I wrote about Boris and Bertha, our new tabby kittens, latest in a distinguished series of tabbies to dwell at this house.  Now they are adults, 18 months old.

Shortly after that post they underwent the indignity of being spayed – an obligation you have to sign up to in an explicit pledge if you get your kittens form the Cat’s Protection League.  It’s undoubtedly a good rule to limit the feral cat population, though I can’t help also remembering fondly the days when we had un-neutered toms, Tomcat and later Kevin, whose rich private lives were hinted at by their erratic disappearances and by the hunger and occasional scars with which they returned home, triumphant.  Kevin, in the 1990s contracted feline AIDS, and I remember the gloom which enveloped the household after his blood test revealed him to be FIV positive.  The vet remarked that, in view of the diagnosis he was surprisingly well at present, and so we took him home and promoted him from “Black Cat” brand cat food at 12p a tin to little pieces of fresh cod and other nutritious delicacies. To everyone’s surprise Kevin thrived, and lived life to the full for another decade.  His blood test had been promoted by the appearance of a sort of raw growth, a ‘Rodent Ulcer’ on his nose, an affliction comparable with Kaposi’s Sarcoma in people.  Surprisingly, on his improved diet this regressed and healed, but it left him with a lopsided and slightly quizzical sneer on his face.  When he wasn’t in pursuit of voles and rabbits he liked to go to church, where he would stroll up and down the aisle during the sermon.  We never went with him.  As one of the parishioners, the writer Kathleen Humphreys, informed me one day, “You may not be a churchgoer, my dear – but I would like to inform you that your cat is extremely devout.”  Kevin was a huge personality and formed a close bond with Kay.  So much so that she left him something in her will.  Unfortunately he predeceased her.

Anyway, Boris (who was in any case destined to live with his sister) was deprived of his testicles in late November a year ago, and appeared not to notice their loss.  For Bertha the experience was more trying and she excelled herself in her efforts to remove her stitches.  The vet provided a sort of post surgical baby-gro for her to wear but she soon extracted herself from it. Instead she had to wear a humiliating lampshade on her neck and kept colliding with doorways she expected to pass easily through.  Every day I would release her from her lampshade for while, so that she could eat in comfort, and play with her and take her mind off grooming her scar.  By the time the vet removed the scratchy black stitches ten days later her tabby pattern was growing back as a soft velvet pelt on her shaved patch.

Bertha did not much like wearing her lampshade collar.

Christmas provided scope for new exploration, and both cats entered into the excitement of tinsel and glittery baubles, and the comfort of relaxing with their family.

Boris gets to grips with a tinsel decoration

A  sofa full of pets and family.

Bertha (left) and Boris (right) assess a new toy. Bertha’s fur was regrowing on her shaved patch.

And so we learned that Boris has a very special characteristic – he chatters his teeth!  When his attention is caught by a bright ceiling light, or reflected sunlight tracking from a bauble across the wall, he gazes fixedly at it and his lower jaw judders to audibly rattle his teeth.  He will chatter his teeth in short bursts for minutes on end.  No previous cat of my acquaintance has performed this trick.  He catches mice and voles too, though he has not yet found out how to eat them and leave the gall bladder on the mat.  Bertha is particularly adept at catching flies.

The relationship between the cats and Otto the Lhasa Apso is everything I could have wished, the three are firm friends.  The cats often sleep together, and groom and play fight amongst themselves. Both cats also submit to having their ears groomed by affectionate dog licks, and present themselves for inspection when they re-enter the house.  Otto and Boris also have an understanding where wild cat chases are concerned.  These are invariably initiated by Boris and may involve several circuits within the house.  But my morning tea time is pet chill-out time, and all three animals adopt positions of ease around me on the bed.

The animals take their ease while I have my morning cup of tea

The animals take their ease while I have my morning cup of tea

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TheTanybwlch Flats

by The Curious Scribbler

‘Tanybwlch Flats’ used to mean the extensive flat meadows of the Ystywth flood plain just inland from Tanybwlch beach.  South of the meandering river the land has played host to many public functions.  For many years the Aberystwyth Show was held here annually, and though that event has moved to a new site at Capel Bangor, there have been sheep dog trials and trotting races in recent years.

Earlier in the 20th century these fields were purchased, speculatively, by Colonel Pugh in the expectation that they would become Aberystwyth airport.  At least one early aviator, Prince George had landed a plane on Tanybwlch Flats in 1933.  This was a social triumph for the elderly landowner, Lord Ystwyth, who thus managed to finesse the royal guest from the hands of his grander neighbour Lord Lisburne at Trawscoed.   Lord Ystwyth wrote to Buckingham Palace to explain that his own land was far more suitable as an airstrip than the proposed field at Trawscoed where the Prince was to land. Those responsible for the young Prince’s safety agreed, after a reconnoitering flight to the area.  Lord Ystwyth, was a local man, Matthew Lewis Vaughan Davies, a political peer enobled after many years as a Liberal MP. As such he was always considered of lesser moment by the hereditary and Conservative gentry. So it was all the more gratifying to the 92 year old peer that his guest would land within his property, and as such could be entertained to light refreshments at the mansion before attending the Royal Welsh Show.

Prince George ( later The Duke of Kent) flew from Hendon to land on Tanybwlch Flats in 1933, on a visit to the Royal Welsh Show at Llanbadarn.

Lord Ystwyth and Prince George in 1933 on the steps of Tanybwlch mansion, flanked by local dignitaries

 

Today ‘Tanybwlch Flats’ has a different meaning, for the mansion has been divided and refitted as fourteen flats, which are now for sale with Raw Rees of Aberystwyth.  The dense envelope of trees which long surrounded the house has been cleared away and it stands now, stark and grey, gazing out over the shingle bar to the sea.  A new little outhouse houses a state of the art biomass boiler, which emits a wisp of smoke.

Inside, the show flats reveal a minimalist style – lots of white paint, shiny wood floors, blinds, sparse furniture and galley kitchens.  Nothing could contrast more than with the early photographs of the Tanybwlch interiors  decorated for Lord Ystwyth and his wealthy wife: rooms full of high Victorian decor, swagged velvet curtains, deeply embossed flock wallpapers, heavy legged tables and upholstered chairs.

Tanybwlch,  Lord Ystwyth’s Drawing Room

 

 

Lord Ystwyth’s Dining Room

The house was stripped of most of these interior features after the estate was sold in 1936.  One of the fireplaces now occupies the Elizabethan room at the Royal Oak Llanfarian.    Subsequent uses for the building has been as a hospital, a hall of residence for the College of Librarianship, Coleg Ceredigion catering college and training restaurant, and more recently as the private home of guitarist Uli Jon Roth.  During that last incarnation many original features such as the panelled doors were released from their hospital cladding of hardboard, and the coved ceiling of the Music room was painted and gilded like a starry sky.

As the potential homeowners flock to view its latest incarnation many will have connections with its past.  Some may have relatives who experienced isolation there during the typhoid epidemic of 1946, others may harbour riotous memories of their student days in partitioned rooms in the attics and of winds so penetrating that the carpets were known to undulate in the windy blast from the west.  The particulars all look very tranquil today:

A sitting room in one of the new flats

A sitting room in one of the new flats

 

A bedroom in the new flats

A bedroom in the new flats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prohibition on Play at St Marcella’s

by The Curious Scribbler

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

 

More images may be found at  http://medieval-wales.com/site_31_denbigh.php

 

 

 

 

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Judging at a local Show

by The Curious Scribbler

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

 

 

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Remembering Mabel Pakenham Walsh

 

by The Curious Scribbler

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.

The sun goes down on the celebration

Mabel’s remains and mementoes on 30 August 2013

 

 

 

For more pictures of the young Mabel Pakenham Walsh search photoshelter for ‘Mabel’ at http://homersykes.photoshelter.com/

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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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A portrait of Elizabeth Inglis Jones

by The Curious Scribbler

The guest of honour at the recent opening of Mrs Johnes’  garden at Hafod was new supporter, Giles Inglis Jones, a great nephew of the author Elizabeth Inglis Jones,  whose  account of Hafod did so much to resurrect the memory of Thomas Johnes when Hafod was at its nadir of destruction.

Giles Inglis Jones, assisted by his daughter, reads an extract from Richard Payne Knight's poem The Landscape a didactic poem (1794)  in praise of the Picturesque to the guests of the Hafod Trust.

Giles Inglis Jones, assisted by his daughter, reads an extract from Richard Payne Knight’s poem The Landscape a didactic poem (1794) in praise of the Picturesque to the guests of the Hafod Trust.

 

Inglis Jones’ book, Peacocks in Paradise, published by Faber in 1950, was a fictionalised biography of the Johnes family  which drew heavily upon the large collection of personal letters between Johnes and his friend Sir James Edward Smith which she discovered at the Linnean Society.  These letters have been among the most valued resources for subsequent historians and some are reproduced in Richard Moore Colyer’s A Land of Pure Delight ( Gomer 1992).

Miss Inglis Jones was approaching fifty when she turned her hand to this, the first of her biographies, and later went on to write well researched accounts of the lives of other notables,  Maria Edgeworth (1959) and Augustus Smith of Tresco Abbey in the Scilly Isles (1969).  However her debut novel in 1929 was far steamier fiction, which roused in equal parts the admiration and the indignation of the readers of Cardiganshire.  I have just finished reading Starved Fields with very considerable enjoyment  and even a little surprise that such insight and earthy sentiments should flow from the pen of an innocent young woman of good family.

Starved Fields  deals with the families of two Cardiganshire Squires, the baronet Sir Uryan Williams, squire of the crumbling eighteenth century mansion Bryn, and farming landowner Owen Morgan of Lluest his relative and neighbour.  Just as one cannot read Wuthering Heights without realising that the author had a close understanding of alcoholism, depression and mental illness, it is hard to believe that Inglis Jones’ pageant of male and female drunkenness, incompatible marriage, illegitimacy and adultery was not informed by close observation of her neighbours or even family.

Giles Inglis Jones has loaned to the Hafod Trust an oil painting of his great aunt as a young woman, painted by the New Zealand portrait artist Cecil Jameson.  She is a pretty girl with a short 1920’s bob of hair, wearing a simple shift and a necklace of amber beads.  She was brought up at the south Cardiganshire mansion of Derry Ormond though I have heard it said that she and her brother considered their childhood deeply unhappy and shed few tears at the eventual demolition of their family home.

The portrait of Elizabeth Inglis Jones by Cecil Jameson

The portrait of Elizabeth Inglis Jones by Cecil Jameson

The men she depicts in her first novel tend to be spineless, inconsistent characters, at best charming but wet, and at worst drunken and entirely selfish.   Perhaps that is why she never married.  The strands of her story all paint entirely believable characters, but only one for whom the author shows real compassion.  This is her heroine, Gaynor, daughter of the baronet, who ends up balancing the role of adulterous mistress and farm manager to her feckless first love, Owen Morgan, with that of dutiful daughter to her enfeebled and alcoholic parents.

Also loaned from Giles Inglis Jones’ deceased great aunt’s possessions came a number of deeds and notebooks some of which I have been perusing. One contains a transcription of 21 letter received in 1929 as a result of the publication of Starved Fields. While all the writers congratulated her on her work, readers struggled with such depravity set in the Cardiganshire of the 1890s.  The Principal of St David’s, Lampeter, Canon Maurice Jones  wrote     “Where you have gone wrong,  if I may venture to say so,  is in setting your period a century late.  I cannot believe that the life you describe is true of Cardiganshire only 30 years ago, whereas the book gives a fairly clear and honest description of life in many parts of Wales in the 18th Century  …. I’m afraid you will not be popular with the “county” after your remorseless revelations of what life can have been like in Cardiganshire at any period in its history”.     Mrs Perrin ( author of 21 novels ) declared “What you must cultivate if you want a wide public is more restraint  –  your construction and technique are good but remember too much realism isn’t art”.

Miss Mary Lewis of Trefilan tempered her congratulations with a rebuke “Now there are aspects of Starved Fields I don’t like my dear Elizabeth, but I’m not going to enlarge on what is a matter of taste except to say that Society in Cardiganshire during the Nineties wasn’t really at all what your book implies – You weren’t born then, but I was (unfortunately) grown up and going about in those days so I know .  The Spectator’s reviewer took the view that the novel could only have been written by a man.

On the basis of these letters, it seems that actually the gentry were less offended than the middle classes.  A letter from her cousin, Wilmot Vaughan of Trawscoed  states “I do think you have got the Welsh country people to a T, let alone strange, weird drunken squires who one has known in the flesh.”

Lady Lloyd of Bronwydd  was simply thrilled.  “ What an amazing child you are!  I must congratulate you on your wonderful book, not a nice character in it!!  But your perspectives are quite an astonishment and it is terribly true and interesting and I own to simply screaming over it until Marteine  got quite angry, but he couldn’t put it down!! “  More prosaically she added “ I expect your mother is very proud of you, I should be. Will you dare go back to Derry [Ormond]?”

I don’t know whether Elizabeth did return home, but certainly by 1937 she was a permanent resident in London.  I believe that the remoteness of their homes and the relative poverty of even the premier families in Cardiganshire made it very difficult for many gentry girls from West Wales to secure suitable husbands.  Elisabeth certainly made her escape into London and literature, and by her middle years had started mining the historic record rather than her own life for what are now her better known books.

Her pretty portrait will soon be presiding over new nuptials in the Hafod Estate Office  which is now a venue for civil marriage ceremonies.  Inoffensive young woman that she appears, her clear gaze should make brides closely inspect their motives, and keep new husbands on the straight and narrow!

The critical gaze of the young Elizabeth Inglis Jones

The critical gaze of the young Elizabeth Inglis Jones

 

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