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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One thought on “Remembering Mabel Pakenham Walsh

  1. I was very saddened to learn of Mabel’s passing.

    Mabel was a good friend to me when I lived in Llanbadarn from 1990 to 2000. I was introduced to her soon after arriving in the area by Basil Moore of Talybont, another larger-than-life local character.

    Mabel was a great enrichment to village life. She combined local knowledge with insight into matters way beyond the Welsh border. She read her Daily Telegraph from cover to cover, and although she disagreed with the paper’s politics, she certainly appreciated good writing.

    She was immensely supportive to me in my own tribulations in the 1990s.

    Mabel was always keen to try new experiences, including on the culinary front. I vividly remember once expressing an interest in African food, specifically goat meat, wondering whether it might be available in Aberystwyth. Two hours later I found a pack of goat cutlets posted through my letterbox in Bridge Terrace. Whence she sourced them, I shall never know.

    I left the Aberystwyth area in 2000, and contact with Mabel inevitably became less frequent. Nonetheless we did meet more or less every year, and in 2004 she trekked down to Lewes in Sussex, where I was then living. The agreed meeting point was the entrance to the Metropole Hotel on Brighton seafront. Spotting Mabel was a breeze, as she was readily identifiable with her large yellow umbrella (parasol?) bearing the legend ‘Aberystwyth, Sun, Sea and Surf’. During that visit we took a day trip to Dieppe. I came to understand how important it was for Mabel to cross the Channel once again. She had enjoyed cycling around France in the late 50s and early 60s, when rural France was still a bucolic paradise. She saw her return, albeit for such a brief period, as something of a victory and evidence that she had overcome her many infirmities.

    I last saw Mabel in the autumn of 2009, when we had coffee at the cafe on Constitution Hill. I would like to pay tribute to her as one of those rare people who think outside established patterns, make their own judgements and can show great kindness.

    Helen Gibbons
    formerly of Bridge Terrace, Llanbadarn

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