Saturday was a perfect day for a seasonal tradition – selecting a Christmas Tree. At Cambrian Trees in Ysbyty Ystwyth the frost lay white on the ground, the sky was blue, and kites soured overhead. A heron flew heavily over the valley while small birds wren, robin and dunnock appeared fleetingly amongst the trees. Calling first at the office, where wreathes and ready cut trees are available in abundance we instead were issued with a label with our name on it and set loose to interrogate the thousands of trees on four sloping fields on the valley side. Once tagged, our chosen tree will remain on its roots until we wish to collect it, – in our case very close to Christmas when most of the trees in the retail trade will have been cut for many weeks and become far more prone to dropping their needles.
Over the years we’ve sought our tree in various small plantations; up the Rheidol Valley at Cwm Rheidol, near the crematorium at Clarach, and south near Talgarreg. One year our chosen tree even came with an installed blackbird’s nest for extra authenticity. But the plantations were often overgrown and difficult. At Cambrian Trees they have things set up for keen tree-selectors like myself. The walks between the trees are wide and mown, the trees comfortably spaced and the encroaching brambles which can shade out and distort the lower boughs are regularly controlled by strimming. They even prune their trees where the shape could be improved on – a skillful task since conifers can can suddenly produce multiple leaders where they have been cut or damaged.
My chosen tree is one of these Nordmann firs
Even so the process of choosing a tree can be a long one. Height is just one consideration. Adjoining trees may be skinny or broad, and they may have widely spaced whorls of branches or be densely bushy. Symmetry of the top-most branches is very variable, so I inspect my prospective tree from every side, mentally festooning the branches with baubles and balancing Xmas parcels among the lower boughs.
There is also the choice of species to consider. Firm favourite with many customers is the Nordmann fir, but there are others beckoning the purchaser. The Frazer fir has slightly shorter bright green needles silver on the underside, and its narrow form suits smaller spaces. The Noble fir has softer and greyer needles and is particularly favoured for wreath making. Here and there in Field No 1 we came across Korean firs, which cone freely while still small. For decoration with snow or tinsel these trees would be stunning, the brown cones substitute for shiny baubles, and the tips of every twig are ornamented with a trio of bright white buds.
Korean fir hardly needs decorating
One could go off piste with the soft plumy foliage of a lodgepole pine, or settle for the traditional green of an old -fashioned Norway Spruce, perfect for an outdoor tree but thirsty and demanding in a heated room. There are also some Siberian Spruce, which I am told hold their needles far longer that the Norway.
A very bushy Norway Spruce
A Lodgepole pine
This is the best-kept of the tree-fields I have visited over the years and Jane introduced me to some of the workers, now resting in the adjoining barn. Shropshire sheep have teddy-bear faces and neat sideways pointing ears. Welsh mountain sheep would be unwelcome since they will devour the lower branches of the conifers, but these discriminating grazers leave the trees alone and keep the grass down. Perhaps Shropshire sheep could have a future as domestic lawnmowers too.
When I choose to collect my tree Adam or Andy will set off on the quad bike with a chainsaw to collect it. That way there will be barely a needle on the carpet when twelfth night comes around.
Andy cuts and collects the trees.
Great quantities of Christmas trees leave Cambrian Trees to be sold far and wide, but there is a special welcome for us locals and our families lucky enough to be able to visit in person. I will also be buying one of Jane’s wreaths to hang on my front door.
I called in at St Michael’s Eglwysfach this afternoon to view their latest exhibition – of historic and recent Bridal and Baptismal Gowns. The exhibits are provided by people who are local to the area, some who were born in the parish, others who migrated from elsewhere bringing their memorabilia with them. First impressions are of an airy whitewashed church interior with simple dark brown box pews. Each pew gives access to a wooden mannequin clothed in wedding gown, and a short description of the gown, its wearer and its day of glory. Curated by Lynda Thomas, the exhibition casts fascinating light on not just the fluctuations of fashion but on the social history of the last century or so. Accompanying material include wedding photographs and the wearer’s memories. It is much more personal than just an exhibition of gowns.
St Michael’s Eglwsfach adorned with wedding gowns
The oldest gown on display went up the aisle in 1928 fashionably exposing Sue Billingsley’s grandmother’s ankles. Muriel Mary Richards made the dress herself in fine silk velvet with appliqued velvet flowers and embroidery and beads. She must have been a talented seamstress. Possibly age has discoloured it. In the accompanying photograph is looks to be white.
The oldest gown worn in 1928 in West Bridgford, Nottingham
Next in antiquity was a heavy figured satin gown with long fitted sleeves and a broad divided collar. Alison Swanson’s auntie wore it to her wedding at St Matthew’s Church, Borth in 1957. A prestigious dress from Roecliff and Chapman of Grosvenor Street, London, couturiers to Princess Grace Kelly. Eleven years later Alison wore it to her own wedding at the same church. Flanking this mighty dress are those of her two daughters-in-law who were married this century. The contemporary take on the formal white dress involves bare arms and shoulders which would have surprised the great aunt. The other bride wore a pretty informal floral gown.
Alison Swanson married in 1968 wearing her auntie’s vintage 1957 gown. Her two daughters in laws’ dresses on either side.
Had Alison been buying anew, she might instead have considered a statuesque flowing dress like the one worn by Mary Andrews when she married Keith Fletcher at St Bride’s Church, Cwmdauddwr Rhayader. From Marshall and Snelgrove’s grand London store, it was of floaty rayon georgette fabric suspended from a bodice and sleeves of Guipure lace with pearl droplets. The groom must have had to take care not to tread on her train.
1967 gown with a long train from up-market department store Marshall and Snelgrove
Another mother and daughter trio was provided by Celia Boorman whose wedding to Russell Davies took place in 1972 at St Petroc’s Church, South Brent, in Devon. Graduate students at Oxford at the time, they were on their way to buy tyres for his Mini when she spotted this flamboyant dress in a shop window in Cowley.
Celia Boorman married in 1972 in this flamboyant dress, her daughters’ dresses are on either side .
Her daughter Imogen married at Gregynog Hall in 2014 wearing another white bare shouldered dress, while in 2018 daughter Tamsin had two wedding outfits, one for her wedding at St Michael’s Eglwysfach and the other for her Hindu wedding in Bradford. The sari is displayed like a tent behind the mannequin.
Sheila Cuthbert wore a pale blue Laura Ashley ‘Prairie’ dress when she married Mervyn Lloyd in Wombourne Registry Office in 1979. Sleeves were long and necks were high in the 1970s. It put me in mind of a similar dress I wore to my wedding in 1973. My mother-in-law forbade a white wedding because she knew we had already shared a tent! These were dresses which could come out on other occasions: Sheila wore hers at a Millenium party.
A blue Laura Ashley gown for Sheila Cuthbert and Mervyn Lloyd’s registry office wedding in 1979
Lynda Warren was married twice in the 1980s, both times wearing a hat. Her second wedding, to Barry Thomas, was in a Registry Office and a chic Mothercare maternity gown. It was touch and go whether the nuptuals would precede the baby.
Two 1980s gowns worn by Lynda Warren
The collection of baptismal gowns is less varied that the bridal ones, and also older, with several Victorian or Edwardian gowns which have attended numerous family christenings. The main fashion trend seems to have been that they have got a little shorter over the decades. They are displayed in the enclosure around the font alongside glowering images of RS Thomas.
Baptism Gowns displayed around the font
Many families have carefully preserved their baptismal gowns, but Joy Neal must be congratulated on also retaining the box.
Trouseaux and layettes from Steinmann & Co of Piccadilly
The Exhibition is open till the end of the month 10am-4pm with the option of tea and cake for a modest £2.00 a head. Donations support local charities Hospice at Home ( HAHAV) and Riding for the Disabled (RDA). I reccommend it.
When I got to know Kay Humphreys she was a tiny elderly lady living at the far end of the long low row of ancient cottages in the shade of a huge acacia tree at Pontllolwyn in Llanfarian. There was just one chair for guests which could be reached with difficulty, for she lived a frugal life hemmed in by huge sloping stacks of weekly magazines, the Spectator, the New Statesman, The Week. The cottage was very much unimproved, cluttered with the memorabilia of her long life.
Loves in her life included the big house, Aberllolwyn, (which had formerly belonged to her clergyman uncles Tom and Griff Humphreys, and which she always felt was really hers), and cats. A rector’s daughter herself, she delighted in tormenting vicars with theological questions on the subject of cats’ souls, and whether she would meet her favourite cats in heaven. One of these favourites was our cat, Kevin, a handsome un-neutered tabby tom who in the 1990s often attended the services at Llanychaiarn Church, where she was a worshiper. On Sundays when Kevin failed to put in an appearance, Kay would often appear at our door, imperiously asking ” Where is Kevin?” Kevin became a beneficiary of her will – a legacy which he did not collect because he predeceased her.
In 2004 she endowed her own memorial bench outside the church. Ever practical, she donated it while she could have the use of it, and on a chilly April morning, eighteen years ago today, a party of relatives and villagers assembled around her as the Revd Hywel Jones dedicated the bench.
The dedication of the Bench on 3 April 2005
Kathleen Humphreys on her bench, with cousin Mary Ellis and niece Cathy McGregor
By this time in her life Kathleen Humphreys was best remembered for her long-running column in The Cambrian News, ” Kay’s Corner” a weekly opinion piece, which drew on a wide knowledge of folklore, gardening, theology and her own strong ideas. She had always been a writer, and now, as I assemble her archive and diaries for donation to the National Library of Wales, one gets an insight into a remarkable woman. She was born in 1916 into a clergy family and grew up at Llangan Rectory near Bridgend. Her sixteen-year-old diary reveals a girl on the brink of adulthood, aware of male eyes upon her, and already sure that the life of a married woman is not for her. Aged nineteen she was working in London, going to auditions, and working for Central Editing ( would this be the BBC?). Her London diaries from the war years unfortunately do not survive.
Her big literary break came in 1959 when she published Days and Moments Quickly Flying under the pen name of Perry Madoc. It is significant to remember how many women in the early 20th century adopted male cognomens to increase their chance of being taken seriously. The manuscript had been first submitted under the name of “Pen Severn”. Perry Madoc was published by Collins both here and in America and was very favourably reviewed in The Spectator, and compared with Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. Its knowing portrayal of homosexual school teachers and vulnerable schoolboys would have perhaps been expected of a male author.
Kathleen Humphreys’ 1960s diaries reveal a woman who felt her career blighted by the influential Literary Advisor to Collins, Milton Waldeman. There is more than a suggestion that his rejection of her next manuscript was influenced by her rejection of his sexual advances. She was no longer resident in London, having moved to Pontllolwyn to be near her uncles. Two other novels survive in manuscript: The Ink Blot ( which was rejected by Collins and by Gollancz 1960) and The Coal Scuttle Triptych ( rejected by Heinnemann 1961). A later novel The Washerwoman of Sevigny was rejected by Hutchinson in 1989. It may have been a disadvantage that she was no longer a face on the London scene, but she was certainly publishing articles and short stories in Punch, in John O’London’s Weekly and in Argosy. From the 1960s she was also a regular contributor to The Cambrian News.
All her life, Kathleen Humphreys needed to earn a living to supplement her income as a writer, and did a number of jobs in Aberystwyth. Her Pontllolwyn diaries span fifty years 1953 to 2004, and record the experiences of her daily round. Her accounts include Rosemary Christie, mother of the actress Julie Christie and mistress of Douglas Hague of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments, the Jervis family of Bryneithin, the geologist Nancy Kirk, Prof and Mrs Parrott, the Thomsons of Glanpaith, the Roberts of Crugiau, the Mirylees at Nanteos, the Condrys and the Chaters as well as many local neighbours. She was active in the CPRW, the Cardiganshire Horticultural Society, the Ceredigion Antiquarians, and in art and pottery classes. She never owned a car, and travelled everywhere on foot or by bus, chatting to all she met and often expressing her delight in the scenery, the wildflowers and the weather.
Her handwriting is hard to decipher, but the diaries are surely a treasure trove of local life, as well as a signpost to a huge output of published writing hidden away in old newspapers and magazines. I end with a small sample which I have transcribed, the diary entry for 18 July 1959.
Last night I wandered up to Aberllolwyn like a ghost, jumping down over the wall from the woods, now overgrown, and the back all high weeds smothering the wallflowers and sweet williams I had in the old basins and the flowers against the wall! It was exactly like a dream in the dusk with all silent and deserted. I felt so desolate and so acutely homesick I cried bitterly and rained down curses on Uncle Griff and his smug wife and their smug house and on Providence for losing me my home and my little cat. In two months I have only seen him once, briefly, and then he looked scared, thin and ill.
In vain I called him, and I sat on Uncle Tom’s seat in the field in despair. On one last impulse I went down along the bottom of the orchard to the farm and there coming through the entrance to the Dingle from the farm was a glimmer and red and white. My darling Ginger! And in the trim, fat as butter and coat very sleek. How pleased he was to see me, Kissing and rubbing my face with his nose.
By this time it was pitch dark, and warm, and I resolved to spend the night with him on the hay stack. I climbed up a very steep ladder, Ginger clinging on and purring. We settled down. At first it was very cosy with heat rising from the rick but presently my temperature dropped and I got chilly. I tried to arrange these angular blocks andfetched an old raincoat of Dai’s from below. Ginger bore it all very well and when I was too fidgety stationed himself near, so I could hear him purring gently.
Later there was a terrific row below and footsteps. We were rather alarmed, me especially, but peeping over the top I saw it was Dai and Mrs Hughes with a torch. What were they doing? Extraordinary noises of clanging zinc. They were arranging the fallen zinc sheet from the garden wall before the calf shed to keep the geese in. And I had nearly settled in there with Ginger for the night! Why put the geese there?
The haystack very humid. At daybreak Ginger and I went down through the Dingle to the cottage and into bed. It is wonderful to have that warm lump once again snuggled up on the bed covers and his purring and sonnerations. At 2.30 I took him up to thefarm and asked Mrs Hughes to give him milk in the cowshed, which she does, the part behind the stalls where the dogs can’t reach. There are several tins of catfood in the farm piling up because no-one has seen Ginger for days and days.
Kathleen Anne Humphreys, Perry Madoc or Kathleen Hatling ( as she was published in Argosy 1944) deserves to be disambiguated and rediscovered.
Seven years ago I began this blog with an account of the flowers we arranged for my elder daughter’s wedding in November. Raiding my own and friends’ gardens then provided a floral range not readily accessible through florists. I built on this experience last month when my younger daughter married, in a barn wedding in Herefordshire. This was no stately venue but a real working barn, in which the groom’s family house their beef cattle and hay in winter, and what the bride wanted was lots of fairy lights and flowers!
In keeping with the setting we avoided the new and shiny. Between the two families we collected up three pairs of aged milk churns, seven leaking galvanised buckets, and sundry large Victorian earthenware storage pots, and some large jam jars. For the table centrepieces we used amateur clay pots we had thrown ourselves.
Warren Farm, Brockhampton also sells flowers at the farm gate, and we were up soon after dawn to roam the cutting field, and came back with bucket loads of summer flowers: achillea, Ammi majus, delphinium, larkspur, lupin, scabious, clarkia, nigella, astrantia, helichrysum, cornflower, gypsophila, lavender, hydrangea, many shades of cosmos. Farmer James Hawkins margins his fields with generous plantings of wild carrot, borage and Phacelia tanacetifolia for wildlife and insects, and brought great buckets of these for the big arrangements. The old pigsties became our workspace for the day.
For the milk churns we used teasels and white echinops to provide the structure of the arrangements and created three pairs of varying formality. To flank the bride and groom were the most formal arrangements while those framing the farm entrance were perhaps the most evocative, billowing with carrot and phacelia from the fields.
From my garden I brought the teasels, variegated tall true bulrushes (Scirpus lacustris albescens) from my pond, male fern, pink fairy rose, and fruiting guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) to drape over the edges of the pots. Ivy was foraged locally from the woods.
The farm-grown Achillea was a particular delight for the big arrangements, for it grows more than two feet tall with great plates of flowers in romantic summer shades of pink, cream and burgundy.
The bouquets for bride and bridesmaids were made of traditional wildflowers like honeysuckle and hardhead, along with lady’s mantle, astrantia and sweet peas. All the material for bouquets and buttonholes were picked on the farm, and tied by talented members of the families. The professional photos are as yet under wraps, but here is a taster from a guest.
With flowers like these it was impossible to go wrong!
Hafod has come along way from its derelict state in 1994. The walks and bridges are all now restored and it is prized by many people for its its quiet tranquillity, its vistas and waterfalls and the three walled gardens at its core.
This coming weekend that tranquillity will be, for some hours, interrupted by an event much anticipated in the community. A large marquee has blossomed in Mrs Johnes’ Flower Garden, and on Saturday evening it will host Music in the Marquee, a ticketed event at which food and drink will be available along with entertainment by two local bands, the Hornettes and The Hicksters.
On Sunday the Foxglove Fair runs from 10.30 to 6pm. There will be 40 outdoor stands selling crafts, plants, food and drink, while more stands devoted to sales and local organizations will be in the marquee. Throughout the day a programme of music in the marquee will be provided by local schools and choirs and the Aberystwyth Silver Band.
It is right and proper in my view that a garden should be not merely beautiful but useful, a place of sociability and fun. Mrs Johnes’ garden, which occupies a low lying area by a bend in the Ystwyth river, has proved its merits before, notably at a lavish wedding reception held there by Nick and Claire Lee in 2018.
Wedding marquee at Hafod
For this weekend’s events the initiative came from the tourism body Pentir Pumlumon and the Cefn Croes Windfarm Trust and has been choreographed by Tourism Development Officer Tanya Friswell and Hafod Estate Manager Dave Newnham.
I hope visitors will take time to stroll round the garden, planted, as an echo of its former splendour, with plants which were available to gardeners in the garden’s heyday in the late 18th century. Some contemporary visitors described Mrs Johnes’ Garden as an American Garden. At this time fashionable recent introductions were chiefly from the eastern side of the USA. The rich variety of Japanese and Chinese flowers and shrubs familiar in gardens today had yet to be discovered.
Just ten years ago this garden was barely discernable, swamped by a mature plantation of sitka spruce. Huge earthmovers and diggers extracted the stumps, lifting and shaking them of earth as the weeder shakes a groundsel.
In 2009 the sitka spruce plantation was removed and the garden restoration began
The forest road was re-routed round the margin of the old garden, and the dry stone walls repaired and topped with moss.
In Mrs Johnes’ day the lawn would have been ornamented with many island beds brilliant with flowers. It is well described by B.H. Malkin (The Scenery, Antiquities and Bibliography of South Wales published 1804) “A gaudy flower garden, with its wreathing and fragrant plats bordered by shaven turf, with a smooth gravel walk carried around, is dropped, like an ornamental gem among wild and towering rocks, in the very heart of boundless woods. The spot contains about two acres, swelling gently to meet the sunbeams, and teeming with every variety of shrub and flower”.
The modern restoration has the original circular gravel path but the ornamental borders are confined to the perimeter of the garden. Those fragrant, gaudy plats would require a great deal of gardeners’ time, especially when the ‘shaven turf’ was all mowed by scythe. The present arrangement still requires regular effort by garden volunteers, but also allows Hafod to welcome the occasional big event, and play a full part in the community. I intend to be there.
August 2018 Volunteers spread extra mulch on the border
The garden volunteers meet on Fridays: this year weeding dates are planned for 31 May, 28 June, 19 July, 23 August, 3 October. More volunteers are always welcome, and will find tea and biscuits and a warm welcome in the garden from 10 am till 4pm.
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
Following my last blog, a reader who goes on excursions with the Church Monuments Society has drawn my attention to another, much grander, chest tomb ornamented with footprints.
This is in East Yorkshire, in the 13th century church of St Nicholas, Hornsea. Here the chest tomb of Anthony St Quintin, a divine, who died in 1430, is densely ornamented with shoe outlines. They were even easier to carve than those in Anna Maria Hughes’s slate slab, for this grand tomb is made of alabaster.
Interpretation in the church suggests that these are Puritan footprints, and that the shoe shapes are consistent with the time of Charles II. Such an explanation does not help us with the footprints on the grave of a Welsh girl who died in 1777.
The alabaster tomb of Anthony St Quintin in St Nicholas, Church, Hornsea
Two other readers have mentioned not footprints but hand-prints in Wales. On a raised grave by the church door in Dolgellau are lots of children’s handprints of varying sizes, while there are life-size handprints around the top of the front boundary wall of the Quarry Hospital in Llanberis, Gwynedd. There may be several different stories behind these marks by which ordinary people left traces of their identity.
At the east end of Llanychaiarn Church is a rank of five chest tombs, to members of the Hughes family of Aberllolwyn and of Morfa, in the Parish of Llanychaiarn, ( Morfa Bychan as we now know it) The five slate stabs adjoin one another like tabletops. Together they tell the story of a couple of generations. But the right hand slab is remarkable for a rare piece of naive artwork, the meaning of which intrigues me.
Graves of members of the Hughes family of Aberlllolwyn and Morva at the east end of Llanychaiarn Church
The slab reads ‘ Here lies the interred body of Anna Maria Hughes, second daughter of John and Elizabeth Hughes of Morfa, who departed this life the 24th of March 1777 in the 16th year of her life’. Her epitaph reads:
Adieu blest maid, Return again to Dust, The’ Almighty bids to him submit we must These little Rites a Stone, a Verse receive
Tis all a parent, all a friend can give.
Hers was the first of the five burials. Next to her are the graves of her mother Elizabeth Hughes, her father John Hughes of Morva, her sister Elinor ( 1764-1845) and her uncle Erasmus Hughes, her mother’s brother. It was Erasmus who occupied Aberllolwyn and died there, a bachelor aged 73 in 1803. As his epitaph points out he spent his life much preoccupied with the hereafter.
His life was spent in meditation on the Holy Scriptures and resigned in the hope of Resurrection to immortal Glory through the Merits of his Redeemer whoom( sic) he steadfastly trusted.
What is remarkable is that in addition to the copperplate verse engraved on Anna Maria’s slab is a remarkable bit of graffiti, the outline of not one, but two footprints, in neat square-toed shoes. The individual square headed nails securing the heel are each carefully inscribed. The positioning of the two footprints is informal, contrasting with the neat symmetry of the ornament and inscriptions. I don’t believe they were done in the mason’s yard.
Footprint on the grave of Anna Maria Hughes who died in 1777
A second and different footprint at the foot of the grave
Who carved them upon young Anna Maria’s grave? And why? or when?
The other day I came across a very similar footprint, drawn on paper, in 1824. This was an example of a forensic drawing of footmarks at a crime scene:
A paper cut made in 1842 of left footprints in a turnip field at Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway
The shoe seems of a very similar style. What were shoes like in 1777? or was this carving added 50 years after her death?
I would love to hear of any other examples of footprint graffiti similar to this.
The full text of the other four graves is as follows:
1. Sacred to the Memory of Erasmus Hughes late of Aberllolwyn Esq., who died 13 March 1803 aged 73 years. His inscription reads: His life was spent in meditation on the Holy Scriptures and resigned in the hope of Resurrection to immortal Glory through the Merits of his Redeemer whoom( sic) he steadfastly trusted.
2. Sacred to the Memory of Elinor Hughes, daughter of John Hughes Esquire late of Morfa in the Parish of Llanychaiarn who departed this life 28th of January 1845 aged 81 years
3. Underneath lie the remains of John Hughes Esq late of Morfa second son of John Hughes Esq of Hendrevelen who exchanged this life for a Blessed Eternity the 27th day of October1806 in the 80th Year of his age. His epitaph reads:
Just upright merciful in all thy ways In Christian meekness spending here thy days
Sweet sleep in Jesus thou dost now enjoy Partaking happiness without alloy
4. Underneath lie the remains of Elizabeth second daughter of Thomas Hughes Esq late of Aberllolwne and wife of John Hughes Esq, of Morva both of this Parish who resigned her Soul to the Almighty giver the 12th day of November 1807 in the 71st year of her life. Her epitaph reads:
Adieu and long adieu thou ever dear Thou best of Parents and thou Friend sincere May thy survivors imitate thy worth And live to God as thou didst while on earth
They are an evocative series of memorials: Erasmus Hughes was the only son of Thomas Hughes and Elizabeth Lloyd. One of his sisters Mary, married Edward Hughes of Dyffryn-gwyn, Merioneth and another, Elizabeth, married John Hughes of Morva. On Erasmus’ death the Aberllolwyn estate passed first to his sister Mary Hughes, and then to his niece Elizabeth Jane, another of John and Elizabeth Hughes’ daughters. It is noteworthy that all these Hugheses seem to have married men already bearing the name Hughes.
I was privileged to travel free on the Vale of Rheidol Railway not once but twice in the month of June.
The first was on a Wedding Special on 2nd June. Aberystwyth born Claire Lewis married Nick Lee in a charming secular ceremony at Nantyronnen station. The groom and guests got on the train at Aberystwyth. We all alighted at Nantyronnen to sit on hay bales, serenaded by a string quartet. The bride arrived for the ceremony by vintage car and the couple and their guests re-boarded the train for Devil’s Bridge, sipping prosecco. They then made their way to Mrs Johnes’ Garden at Hafod for the reception in a large marquee.
The string quartet awaits the bridal party
The train about to depart after the ceremony
Wedding marquee at Hafod
The railway is spick and span these days, a far cry from its racketty image back in the days of British Rail. The shining brass work, the uniformed staff, and colourful station gardens make it an outstanding venue. One or two of the London guests made a rapid bid to change carriages after the odd smut of soot wafted into the open carriage behind the engine, but this all added to the authenticity of the experience.
I had had a small part in the station garden display. The preceding weekend I helped in the volunteer effort to replant the five great troughs on Nantyronnen Station with colourful summer bedding, ready for the big day, and every other journey of the summer.
My second free ride came on 11 of June, as guest of the railway itself. This special journey marked a number of recent milestones: the launch of the first of four carriages which allow disabled access, the restoration of a former weighbridge building at Devil’s Bridge, and the opening, within it, of an information display about the Pine Martin Reintroduction Project led by the Vincent Wildlife Trust. CEO Rob Gambrill, the man behind the railway’s phenomenal success, welcomed us all, and at every station stop he roamed the platform chatting with guests and railway staff. A man with a magnificent train set!
Rob Gambrill and railway staff at Aberffrwd station
As I have recorded on this blog, I was (many years ago when British Rail owned the railway) a passenger on the train which derailed spectacularly between Aberffrwd and Nantyronnen in 1986. It was an early outing of the ill-fated Vista Coach which seated visitors stadium-style facing the view. Pulled at the rear of the train on the return journey it tipped over on its face, bringing the train to a juddering halt. It was a pleasing co-incidence to learn from the driver that the immaculately fitted open carriage on which I was travelling was none other than the Vista Coach, now re-designed with traditional seating. There were no such crises on this journey.
Another reversion was that of our engine, Llewelyn, which until recently burnt oil, but now burns great chunks of anthracite. The stoker, in true period style, was in contrast to the dapper guard, quite black with coal dust. Standing at the station we could watch him shovelling coal into the furnace of the engine. Those motes of soot tormenting the wedding guests had real Thomas the Tank Engine authenticity.
It is easy to overlook Llandygwydd, a cluster of Victorian cottages on a minor road off the A484 east of Llechryd in the Teifi valley. Its graveyard contains members of some significant local families from the nearby gentry houses of Blaenpant, Penylan, Noyadd Trefawr and Stradmore. But of the church there is now little trace except for its font, wreathed in brambles and standing incongruously in the open air. This is of itself surprising. Fonts are a bit of a problem for the church – it is generally unacceptable to re-use them as garden ornaments, and strictly speaking even the fragments of a broken font should be preserved within the church. Thus it is more usual to see superfluous and disused fonts from demolished churches sitting in the porch of an extant church in the neighbourhood.
The font at Llandygwydd stands out of doors on the footprint of the nineteenth century church
The church which until 2000 gave it shelter was a Victorian one, built to a design by the high church architect RJ Withers, in 1856-7. Its fortunes, from construction to demolition have been recorded in detail by Gwynfor Rees in the journal Ceredigion Vol. XIV, no 4, 2004. The local gentry, especially the Webley Parrys of Noyadd Trefawr and the Brigstockes of Blaenpant were staunchly Anglican at a time when Nonconformism was growing among the local people, and it was felt important that the existing parish church,(a humble structure built in 1804 to replace a late medieval one on the same site), should be replaced by a structure of Victorian splendour, commensurate with the fashionable style of the neighbouring recently-enlarged mansions. It is recorded that the little ‘calling bell’ dedicated to St Peter, and the font, both of 15th Century origin, were incorporated into the new church. Most uncharacteristically for these parts, it was to boast a tower on the south side, surmounted by a tall timber steeple.
Over the following years the gentry families vied in endowing stained glass windows, an ornate reredos, a Caen stone and granite pulpit, and installed commemorative plaques recording their largesse. The church was said to have some of the finest stained glass in the county. In 1891 five new bells donated by the Webley Parry family of Noyadd Trefawr and Maria Brigstocke of Blaenpant in commemoration of the marriage of her niece joined the old bell from the former church.
Maria Brigstocke stands in the centre behind the five new bells. On the left side of the picture is the old bell dedicated to St Peter, from the original medieval church. see Ceredigion Archive
Sadly this impressive church had been built at ‘an extraordinarily cheap rate’ and proved structurally unsound, the timber steeple warped and bent, and the tower, set on insufficient foundations, cracked alarmingly. Within twenty years it was deemed unsafe to ring the bells lest masonry fall from the edifice, and a survey by church architects Caroe and Passmore in 1913 predicted that the bent spire might collapse onto the chancel at any time. That year the spire was removed, and the tower strengthened, but to no avail. In 1978, after several structural reports, the bells were sold to the foundry which produced them and in 1980 the entire tower was taken down.
The church was de-consecrated and demolished in 2000, leaving its foundations and some mature yew trees among the graves. In situ inside what was once the south door, stands the font.
It might be speculated that at the time of demolition the Llandygwydd font was perceived as mid-Victorian, of no great historic importance and therefore allowed to stand as a landmark in the footprint of the church. But closer inspection reveals this to be far from the truth. This is a large medieval font carved out of Dundry stone from near Bristol, a source of good carve-able stone which was worked out by the sixteenth century. It is in the perpendicular style, with an octagonal base and bowl carved with a repeating four-leaved relief. But Mr Withers and his masons have embellished it. They sliced it into three horizontal layers and re-assembled them like a club sandwich with a narrow layer of oolitic limestone from Painswick between each. At the same time they repaired, as is common in old fonts, the various damages to the rim and stem with inset pieces of Painswick stone, quite different from the original Dundry. Resplendently reassembled and about four inches taller, it would have had a fashionably polychromatic appearance, with the yellow-brown Dundry stone layered sandwich style with white oolite.
A later repair to the rim of the font
Today, forlorn and exposed to the weather, the newer courses of Painswick stone are badly weathered, and some of the inset repairs are falling out. Chunks are crumbling away from the Dundry stone stem. Moss and lichen colonize the surfaces, but as a further reminder of its antiquity, the close observer will find two daisy wheel patterns (a common medieval graffiti) lightly engraved upon the bowl.
The layers of Paiswick stone have weathered away to leave deep grooves. To the left of the four leaf carving are two daisy wheel compass-scored devices on the medieval stone
I am intrigued at these devices. The expert belief is that they are symbols to ward off witches or the devil. They are very commonly found on fonts and the doorway arch or porch of ancient churches, though they may be found in more remote parts of the building too. The six petal form is easy to scratch with a compass or perhaps a pair of shears. You just score a circle, and then with one point on the circumference draw an arc within the circle till it touches the circumference again. Then move the point to the intersection of arc and circle and repeat. Soon six neat petals are inscribed within the circle.
The daisy wheel design
They are lightly scratched, not typical of serious masons’ work and anyone could have done them. I do wonder though whether the evidence for their role in repelling witches is a modern over-interpretation of past behaviour.
Equipped with a geometry set we all used to draw this device on our schoolbooks, because we could, and because without any great skill we could produce perfect symmetry. When bored we often coloured them in too. Will future historians conclude that 20th century schoolchildren all worked to repel the forces of evil during geometry lessons? The scholarly name for these devices on medieval structures is apotropaic graffiti. But for me and my schoolfriends the same images were meaningless, but very satisfying, doodles.