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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Cunning techniques to sell a superfluous church?

by The Curious Scribbler

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

Intimidating security fences have appeared around St Winefride’s Church

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

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

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

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

Capture

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

The derelict church of Welsh Martyrs, Penparcau. Photographed by Paul White, http://www.welshruins.co.uk/photo14087508.html#photo

The derelict church of Welsh Martyrs, Penparcau. Photographed by Paul White, http://www.welshruins.co.uk/photo14087508.html#photo

 

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

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

For much more detail visit http://savestwinefrides.co.uk/home.html which gives links to a Dropbox bulging with damning evidence of manipulation behind the scenes.

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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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Hafod – A garden in the wilderness

by The Curious Scribbler

Few scenes could be more unexpected than the appearance of a marquee in a manicured garden in the middle of a forestry estate in upland Ceredigion.  Even more improbable, perhaps, is that on 2 June the sun should blaze in a cloudless sky, while the midges were banished by a gently cooling breeze.  Converging from the local community and from far flung corners of Wales were some 150 guests assembled for a traditional Welsh tea and to celebrate the restoration and re-planting of Mrs Johnes’ Georgian flower garden.

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Guests arriving for the opening of the restored Mrs Johnes’s Flower garden

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A Victorian-style afternoon tea was enjoyed by 150 guests

The location was Hafod Uchtryd, the pioneering Picturesque landscape created by Thomas Johnes in the late 18th Century in the then barren landscape of the Upper Ystwyth valley 15 miles inland from Aberystwyth.  His story has been told many times: how he settled here with his second wife Jane Johnes and steadily poured his massive wealth from other properties into creating his personal Xanadu, a Gothic house by the architects Thomas Baldwin and John Nash, a model farm, huge plantations of oak, beech and larch, miles of carefully graded walking paths leading the visitor through the landscape of gnarled trees, pools, cascades and rock cut tunnels and viewpoints.  All the aesthetic cognoscenti came to visit Hafod and like other great houses the gardener could, for a consideration be persuaded to allow a visit to the gardens and the long conservatory before pointing his charges off onto one of the two circuit walks: the Lady’s Walk which took in the Church, and the more strenuous Gentleman’s Walk on the contours of the southern flank of the valley.

Johnes and his wife had one child, Mariamne, something of a child prodigy with a great flair for botany and a crippling infirmity which caused her to be at times encased in a gigantic metal spinal brace.   Notwithstanding this, she had her own private garden, an alpine garden perched on a crag east of the house, while her mother had a flower garden near the carriage drive out of sight of the house.  As early as 1788 Jane Johnes was writing to her brother “this place is in higher beauty than ever I saw it, my flower garden full of flowers”.  Among the many records by 19th century tourists I offer a quotation from 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”.

 

Hafod has had a chequered history since those glory days, and by the mid 20th century the landscape was being planted with serried ranks of conifers, its gardens long forgotten and the great mansion stripped of its fixtures and reduced to rubble with dynamite.  Many British country houses met a similar fate in those years.  The circular wall of Mrs Johnes garden was breached by a forestry road, and its interior became a plantation of Sitka Spruce. When I first saw the garden it was through one of the two arched doorways to the garden, wreathed in brambles and dwarfed by the gloom of the densely planted 40 year old trees.   It seems inconceivable that in the last six years the road has been moved outside the original perimeter, the trees felled, and their stumps plucked from the soil by a giant yellow machine shaking the soil off the roots like a human hand weeding groundsel!

 

Uprooting the tree stumps in Mrs Johnes’s Garden in March 2009

The wall was rebuilt, the cleared ground graded, and the path reinstated close to its original route. In 2012 we saw the first planting, of carefully selected shrubs and herbaceous plants which would have been available to Jane Johnes in 1788.  Several contemporary commentators called it an American Garden, and a number of gentry gardeners, some of them Jane’s friends and correspondents were creating American gardens at this time.  The new planting, designed by landscape architect Ros Laidlaw, reproduces the American flavour of the time, with shrubs, chiefly from the eastern seaboard of North America which were known to have been introduced to British gardens in the 18th century.

Leucothoe fontanasiana ( Fetter Bush) was introduced in 1765 from the USA

Calycanthus floridus ( Carolina Allspice)  was introduced in 1726 from the USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a proud day for the Hafod Trust, which over the past twenty years has co-ordinated a partnership with the Forestry Commission to reinstate the ten miles of paths, the bridges, the viewpoints and the gardens.  Grant aid for Mrs Johnes’ Garden has come from the Cefn Croes Wind Farm Community Trust, The Finnis Scott Foundation, Tidy Towns Wales and many individual donors.  In future you could hold an afternoon tea party or a champagne reception in this tranquil enclosure.  You could even get married in the picturesque little church, Eglwys Newydd, just up the streamside footpath, or in the Hafod Stables meeting room, which is now licensed for civil ceremonies.

The mansion is unlikely ever to rise from its ruins, but the modern visitor with a taste for solitude, silence and starlight can spend a short or long break in the heart of the estate in the comfortably furnished Hawthorn Cottage ( Pwll Pendre) which overlooks a pool on the meadow between the mansion site and Mariamne’s garden.

Hawthorn Cottage ( Pwll Pendre) at Hafod is a furnished holiday cottage

For more about the Hafod Estate  visit www.hafod.org

 

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Remembering Tabernacle Chapel

It is not often you see a listed building smashed to dust in front of your very eyes.

The 11th of July 2008 was such a day though, on which we stood and watched with disbelief as the largest demolition crane ever seen in Aberystwyth methodically chomped its way through the burnt shell of this landmark chapel crammed into the sloping plot between Mill Street and Powell Street.

The chapel was a huge building, its curved gallery of pitch pine seating supported by elegantly fluted  iron columns.  It had long lost a viable congregation, though I remember attending a big school carol service there in the 1980s. While an undeniable hulk dominating the town, its fine interior, and the portentious facade at the Powell Street end had contributed to its listed status and its eventual downfall.  Saving these features and creating a sympathetic conversion to flats at the same time would have been a considerable challenge. Planning permission for such a scheme was granted, but work never began.

On the preceding Friday in July the empty building had caught fire, and although only metres from the fire station its roof was soon well alight. By morning, the smoke scarred windows and collapsing roof ridge caused the closure of the nearby roads to traffic.

The fire damaged building

The Calvinistic Methodist Tabernacle Chapel, built in 1878 and gutted by fire 130 years later

The following Friday the gigantic crane began at the Mill Street end reaching great clawfuls of masonry with the grab on its telescopic arm and advancing inexorably through the building.  The tiers of seating, the elegant metal pillars, the pitch pine interior were all soon reduced to a tangled mass under the caterpillar tracks of the machine.

The Powell Street facade was especially grand, and almost independent of the rest of the barn-like structure.  Here it was not rendered but built of dressed local stone, with pillars, balusters, and seven tall round-topped windows and lintels of Cefn Sandstone from Ruabon  stone.  It seemed untouched by the fire.  By the early afternoon, only this facade, and the return walls built in the same material still stood.  Naively we assumed this would remain and could still front the eventual conversion and retain a little historic character in this part of the town. To the side of this facade, and enclosed by substantial arrow headed iron railings was a tiny shady patch of grass, barely a garden.  This had been one of Aberystwyth’s secret spaces. For in the centre of the little lawn was a plinth on which stood a bronze statue of a  winged youth, with a laurel wreath on his curls and a bundle of ragged palm leaves cradled on his arm.  His foot balanced on a sphere of bronze and on this sphere are engraved in bold capitals the names of fourteen men.  These were the members of Tabernacle chapel killed in the First World War.  Like the monumental town memorial, this graceful piece was also the work of Mario Rutelli.  By the morning of 11 July 2008 it had been removed from the site.

The demolition crane just kept on working its way through the building.  Effortlessly it reached up from the old chapel floor to grasp the towering pediment of the Powell Street entrance and casually brought it crashing to the ground.  Methodically it tugged off the coping stones of the parapet. The immaculate turned stone balusters snapped like so many broken teeth.  Then it chomped up the chimneys at the two corners, the seven elegant first floor windows, the little balcony over the sturdy pillared portico.  The massive freestone quoins of the corners were the hardest to shift and among the last stones standing.  Supported on the inside by the two chimneys these massive corners would surely have braced the facade.  Finally there was just the ground floor with its three tall doorways and four windows standing.  And when these crashed to dust the workmen carried away the white-lettered Tabernacle board and gave it to a neighbour as a souvenir.

For a brief period we thought the Powell Street Facade would be retained

 

The demoliton crane soon nibbled away the facade

The massive quoins and chimney corners were difficult to demolish

A new view opened up towards Penparcau. The railings of the little War Memorial garden remained.

Finally the Tabernacle board is given away as a souvenir

That night the crane left town, and a great gap allowed a view from Powell Street out to the hills of Penparcau.  The site was soon surrounded by high fencing and the wreckage was gradually carried away.  The little garden is a forlorn tangle of brambles now.

Rutelli’s pretty monument eventually found a refuge in the Ceredigion Museum, eight sturdy volunteers carried it up the stairs and strapped it to a pillar of the Coliseum where it can be admired today amongst the varied exhibits.   The accompanying information sheet states that the developers, Merlin Homes, intend to eventually restore him to his little garden at the corner of the site.  But there has so far been no development, and this summer will be five years since the fire.

Rutelli’s statue now resides in the  Ceredigion Museum

For Ceredigion Museum visit   http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=197

 

 

 

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More on Rutelli’s sculptures

by The Curious Scribbler

I’ve had a lot of interesting comments arising from the blogs on Rutelli’s Aberystwyth war memorial sculptures. In this town we like our handsome nude woman, and people often stop to take her photograph.  She is more eyecatching than the traditional assemblage of weapons or the lone and gloomy soldier of so many other towns.

It was a real find to discover she also exists in a garden in Rome ( see Truth comes out of the Bushes) .  But as correspondent ‘dredwina’ points out, it is not unusual in the 20th century  to make five or six editions of a bronze, declaring them at the outset, but not actually creating them all until buyers turn up.  Just as there are at least three Rutelli winged victories in the world, there are, for example, two locations where Churchill and Roosevelt chat upon a bench. Spotting the duplicates could become an absorbing hobby.

The original model, however, was a one-off and  sources have come up with several  oral histories on the subject.  Helen Palmer  writes:- I had a story that the model for the busty lass was a Belgian girl who – as a very elderly lady – visited Aberystwyth some time in the 1980s, but I cannot remember the source and maybe it was all baloney!

While historian Gerald Morgan had a slightly different version – When showing a group around Aberystwyth I was told that the naked lady had been modelled on the wife of a local shopman, Ernie’s Chips or some such, and that as an old lady she had returned to Aberystwyth in the ?1990s and been interviewed by the Cambrian News! Again, I’ve never checked it out!!

Possibly these are both spurious claims.  More likely the girl in question was in Rome, and since she would have been  at least 16 when she modelled she must have been extremely old by the 1990s!

By contrast ‘Tone’s account of repairing the part-severed head of Edward Prince of Wales on the seafront stands up to robust scrutiny. ” At the time when I was employed as a Art/Ceramics technician at the then Visual Art Dept. Llanbadarn Road, on more than one occasion I had to travel to the “Old College” to repair Edward’s neck as an attempt was made to remove his head at the end of the academic year by, it was said, students from Pantycelyn Halls of Residence.
He wasn’t a tall prince, though could be described as handsome, It was an easy to repair as I could reach the damaged area without the aid of steps.
Although as you say “seldom remarked upon” he is certainly marked upon by the use of the hacksaw!

I climbed up the plinth to verify, and established both that Tone is a good deal taller than myself, and that the repaired hacksaw groove on the back of the neck is plain to see.

The green line of corrosion marks the repair to the Prince’s neck

I don’t think we will find other editions of this sculpture tucked away incognito.  It is generally understood to be the only life-size bronze of Edward VIII anywhere.  His abdication in favour of marrying Wallis Simpson put paid to what might otherwise have beena lustrous career in commemorative statuary.

Statue of Edward Prince of Wales at Old College Aberystwyth

Edward Prince of Wales, Chancellor of the University College of Wales 1922, by Mario Rutelli

Arthur Chater also comments  “And I believe that students once sawed off, or tried to saw off, his head. There is certainly a nasty scar on the side and back of his neck. The statue as a whole is rather good I think, with a nice art nouveau trail to his gown, but the face is appallingly weak – maybe though this is in fact a perceptive insight into Edward’s character on the part of Rutelli?”

His gown is indeed very fine, and richly ornamented.  His face looks strangely faun like, though it is true that in photos as a young man his tip tilted nose and and boyish look is indeed apparent.  If this was modelled in 1922 he was less than 28 when the likeness was taken.

A close up of Edward's face

Detail of Edward Prince of Wales, a likeness from or before 1922

The Prince of Wales photographed by Hugh Cecil Saunders in 1925

Speaking of fauns, Mary Burdett Jones has reminded me that I have so far neglected Rutelli’s first commission in Aberystwyth, the war memorial to 10 members of the Tabernacle chapel who died in the First World War.  Tabernacle Chapel?  Yes, that is another story…

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The remarkable mason of Tremain

by The Curious Scribbler

It is very easy to overlook St Michael’s Church, Tremain.  Tremain is a parish spread on either side the main road, a little north of Cardigan.  There is no distinct village, just an erratic scatter of houses, and the church is out of sight, just off the main road to the south side, on a single track lane with high banks and no parking.  Even to turn around having found it involves a muddy drive to the point where a concrete track leads on into a farmyard.

The church of St Michael’s, Tremain

Little wonder then that the diocese eventually concluded that St Michael’s Tremain was superfluous to requirements.

This though is not to say it is without merit and it is tremendous news that thanks to the representations of local and national experts the church has been adopted by that estimable charity, The Friends of Friendless Churches, and the scaffolding has already gone up in anticipation of its restoration.

St Michael’s is a replacement church, built on an ancient site in 1846-8, and its architect was the famous Welsh bard John Jones ‘Talhaiarn’.  The architectural style is ‘ecclesiologically correct’  (which I believe means conforming to the architectural rules devised by The Cambridge Camden Society), the decor is extremely plain with plastered walls and ceiling  in an open rafter roof. There is a schoolroom vestry on one side of the nave fitted out with child-sized pews.  But the most remarkable feature of the church is its masonry.  Built of the local sandstone, Pwntan stone, the blocks have been each carefully shaped to create an intricate fit with their neighbours.  So close is the fit that mortar looks to have been almost superfluous, and rather than being a structure of coursed blocks, the whole external surface of the church resembles a complex jigsaw puzzle in which no two pieces are even similar.

Ths side of the porch, Tremain Church

St Michael’s Church, Tremain.
Stonework is meticulously formed to interlock.

A single stone in the wall

A single stone shaped to interlack with its neighbours

John Jones, a joiner’s son, was born in 1810 and at the age of 15 he was apprenticed to an architect named Ward, who was superintending the building of Pool Park, Ruthin for Lord Bagot.   By 1843 he worked for the ecclesiastical architects Scott and Moffatt of London, and in 1851 he left them to work for Sir Joseph Paxton as a superintendent of the building of the Crystal Palace, and of a mansion for Baron Meyer de Rothschild near Menton, France.  But there is no evidence that in any of these projects was the masonry fitted together in the obsessionally eccentric way it was built at Tremain.

The identity of the Tremain mason is unknown, and if it were a personal whim of his it is not a building style he seems to have employed in other buildings locally.  Oddly, the best echo of this construction is in the work of 13th to 15th century Inca masons in Peru! Here too, blocks were individually fitted together, with neat edges and corners to complement the adjoining stones.  Often Inca building involved massive stones in defensive walls, on a far larger scale than in the church.

A similar masonry style was adopted by the Inca builders of Cuzco in Peru

John Jones’ other, and more celebrated, life was as a poet.  Under the name ‘Talhaiarn’ he published a number of volumes in Welsh between 1849 and 1869, when he died by his own hand.  According to Welsh Biography Online ‘his fame rests mainly on his songs and light verse, often satirical.’  There is presently no clue as to the inspiration for the unique stonework of this small Welsh Church.  It is an architectural curiosity of the first order.

http://www.friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk   The Friends own twenty architecturally and historically important churches in Wales, where their restoration is funded by Cadw and the Church in Wales.

The local expert on Tremain church is Brenda Howells: e mail:  brenda@owlscote.com

 

 

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Truth comes out of the Bushes

by The Curious Scribbler

Just occasionally, life imitates fiction with the well-turned symmetry of a good short story.

When I started writing about the Aberystwyth’s war memorial I drew only upon my own imagination in describing the striking nude at the foot of the column as “a naked woman emerging from a thicket”.

Since then I have searched the internet for similar images using various search engines and search terms, and at last my quest bore results, in the form of pictures on the website of a professional conservationist and restorer in Rome.  Here was the self same girl! http://www.art-conservation.it/rutelli.html

Two views of Rutelli’s sculpture  “Verità esce dai Rovi” which stands in a courtyard in Rome. Photo: Marco Demmelbauer, before restoration

Marco Demmelbauer  tells me that he worked on this Rutelli sculpture many years ago. It is privately owned and can be seen in the courtyard of an apartment block, at Via Quattro Fontane n.18  in Rome.  The sculpture has a name too!  Not quite “Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War”, but  “Verità esce dai rovi”,   which translates as “Truth comes out of the bushes”.  I feel vindicated indeed!

It now seems clear that our Aberystwyth war memorial sculptures are from re-used moulds, and have elder sisters elsewhere in Europe.   In my last blog I pointed out that the Winged Victory by Rutelli on top of our memorial had already been poised on a monument in Palermo since 1911.  I am grateful to Marco Demmelbauer for pointing out that she also stands on the right hand column in front of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II in  Rome.  This also dates from 1911.

The same Winged vistory as we have in Aberystwyth

Winged Victory by Rutelli on a column in front of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome
Photo: Marco Demmelbauer

Winged Victories were not however the sole preserve of a single artist.  The original Victory ( the Goddess Nike) was discovered in 1863 in Samothrace, and is one of the great treasures of the Louvre.  She was fashioned in Parian marble about 190 BC.  A few extra fragments of her, the right hand, a finger tip and thumb have turned up, but her arms and head being missing has left scope for the re-interpretation of the figure in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  Rather remarkably the two tall Roman columns bear two different Winged Victories, one by Mario Rutelli and the other by another sculptor Arnoldo Zocchi.

Winged Victory by Zocchi on the other column in front of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome.
Photo: Marco Demmelbauer

It seems that there were certain criteria for these turn-of-the-century Nikes.   Unlike Truth/Humanity, a Winged Victory is modest, her long draperies rippling in a strong breeze, and she holds aloft the laurel wreath of victory.  She stands upon a sphere, and carries some kind of object in her other hand. Here the interpretations vary, Zocchi provides a sheathed weapon, Rutelli some kind of foliage.

Winged Victories by Rutelli and by Zocchi on columns in front of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome.
Photo: Marco Demmelbauer

Exactly whose influence led to Rutelli tendering a design for a war memorial  utilising two of his pre-existing works for the Borough of Aberystwyth has yet to be revealed, but my guess is that Lord Ystwyth had a good deal to do with it.

 

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