Storm Ophelia

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. The stone jetty north of Tanybwlch beach

by The Curious Scribbler

There are few more invigorating spots than Tanybwlch beach during a powerful storm.  There is the rattling cascade of huge pebbles sucked back and hurled again against the shore, the huge grey brown rollers trailing spume, and the explosive crash of the waves against the concrete jetty which protects the harbour from the south.

At high tide yesterday, at 5.30pm Ophelia was at its height, and  the huge waves broke relentlessly along its length, an unbroken sheet of foamy water flowing across the jetty and cascading into relative calm on the other side.  Even more spectacular was the backwash where a huge wave rebounding from the jetty side would travel southward until it collided with the next huge roller coming in.  Then an explosion of disordered water flies high into the grey sky.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Water streams over the stone jetty

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Waves collide as they rebound from the stone jetty

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Another wave rebounds against a new one

Meanwhile high tide held back the outflow of the Ystwyth, ( which is tidal until the corner where Nanny Goats Walk sets off inland) and the water backed up to flood the grass and  lower path along the riverside.  Standing on the Pen-yr-anchor bridge  the gale hit one with ferocious force, coming directly along the overflowing river, rippled to wavelets by the wind.

Storm Ophelia. The Ystwyth river backs up at high tide

Further south along the curving storm beach the waves rush up, loaded with sand and pebbles, and pour over into the Ystwyth river behind it.  Little wonder that the Tanybwlch flats have not been earmarked for further sea defences by the Environment Agency (now NRW).  At the foot of Alltwen the pasture is returning, not for the first time, to salt marsh and standing water.

There were a dozen or more of us, and several dogs on the top of the strand, teetering in the gusts and watching, filming or photographing the scene.  The green and white pillar on the end regularly disappeared from view.  Incautious cars could be seen driving out onto the wooden jetty on the far side of the harbour,  spray suddenly engulfing them, and a small blue and white motor boat, tethered to the jetty listed and slowly sank under the onslaught.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Waves break over the stone jetty

I then went to the main Aberystwyth promenade, where the full force of the south wind was less, but the waves crashed satisfyingly on the sea wall, sending a sheet of sand and water over the prom.  Spectacular explosions of spray engulfed the public shelter on Bath rocks,  which was only recently restored after an even more severe pummeling by Storm Frank  in 2014.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Spray engulfs the Victorian Shelter

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth, water streams over the prom

Further north the waves shot directly skyward in front of Alexandra Hall.  I have seen them burst higher in other storms, but there is a little buttress on the promenade near there which always attracts the dare devils waiting to run back from a soaking from the even more exceptional wave.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Taking selfies in the storm

It was a bit of a party atmosphere all along the prom, as people walked, dodged the overflowing waves and took photos on their phones.   A person in a motility scooter bowled gaily along the prom with a following wind behind it.  I would have been a bit fearful in so light a vehicle with the wind resistance of its hood.  These are the circumstances when buggies and prams readily escape their owners.

If there is one species entirely unimpressed by the 70mph gusts it is the starling.  Autumn is setting in and the big traditional roost is filling up under the Pier.  Without any apparent difficulty the flocks cruised in at dusk, jinking in perfect synchrony to form strands and ovoids in the sky before diving down to roost on the ironwork under the deck.  They came in smaller groups  of one to two hundred birds, and perhaps dived to safety sooner than on a calm evening.  But while few gulls flew in the wild winds, these little birds carried on as if the evening was entirely unremarkable.

Storm Ophelia Aberystwyth. Huge waves approach  north beach

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The Old College once more

by The Curious Scribbler

In November I wrote about the Old College, Aberystwyth, and an early photograph showing the construction of the main hotel entrance on King Street in 1864.  Now further researches in the archive of the Clarkes of Llandaff  by Mike Statham have brought a further early picture to light, and this one, I think, may be less well known.

Old College under construction.  Copyright  William Michael Clarke

Old College under construction 1864-5. Copyright William Michael Clarke

The view is from the shore and shows the sea wall still under construction and topped by builders’ sheds.  Wooden scaffolds cover the entire facade, and the progress of the build seems to have been from south to north.  Immediately beside the old Nash dwelling  Castle House, (just visible at the right of this picture) we see the oval front of Seddon’s large seaward facing bar, which is now known as the Seddon Room.  Above it on the first floor, and approached, by gentlemen only, up a separate stair, were the smoking room which overlooked Laura Place and the billiard room overlooking the sea.  In this picture, the billiard room construction looks almost compete, its roof pierced by three small dormers, and topped by a glazed rectangular ceiling light looking very much like a huge wardian case.  These details are true to Savin and Seddon’s original ambitious design for the hotel. The Billiard room was 48 feet by 24 feet and was to accommodate three full sized billiard tables and many spectators.

Further north the build looks confusing.  Two gables have been competed in line with Seddon’s original plans, but the third, taller gable appears partly constructed, and the distinctive ornamental hexagonal chimney beside it seems not yet to have been built.  There seems instead to be a hole in the roof where it will later stand.

To the north end, the first floor of the building has only reached the tops of its gothic arched windows, and so it seems to have remained for many years.  It was incomplete at the time of the bankruptcy of the hotel and remained so during the first phase of Seddon’s alterations to the building for  College use.

The fire in the Chemistry lab, on 9 July 1885 which extended to gut the whole of the north wing, is recorded in a photograph after the disaster. The grand billiard room roof is gone, as are the three gables of roof adjoining it.  On the left we see that the build at the north end has still, after 20 years, not progressed above the first floor, and remains a shell, just as it appeared in 1865.

Old College after the fire of 1885

Old College after the fire of 1885. Reproduced in The Old College, by Elgan Philip Davies, Gomer, 2011

The repairs and rebuilding of the College after the fire were directed by Seddon but saw many economies and alterations in the roofscape. In 1894 a different architect Charles J Ferguson, with far less gothic leanings, was employed by the college, and was responsible for the much plainer central block, and for the solid and very slightly Queen Anne-style Alexandra Hall at the far end of the promenade.  The resulting apppearance of the Old College in the early 20th century is seen below, in an illustration in one of the many volumes of Photographic Albums of Aberystwyth and District which were produced annually by The Cambrian News, to meet tourist demand.

Old College in early 20th century.  Cambrian News Album 60 Photographs of Aberystwyth

Old College in early 20th century. Cambrian News Album 60 Photographs of Aberystwyth & District

 

 

 

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Storm Frank

Not a lot of time for blogging during a family Christmas, but I managed to get almost all the guests out of the house at high tide this morning to enjoy the spectacle of Storm Frank.  Not as destructive as the un-named storm which devastated the prom two years ago, but impressive none the less.

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The Aberystwyth seafront on 30 December 2015

Huge waves break on the bath rocks

Huge waves break on the bath rocks

The Aberytswyth seafront on 30 December 2015

The Aberystwyth seafront on 30 December 2015

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We also went to the harbour, where great bursts of water shot up into the air, and flooded across the breakwater.

Aberystwyth harbour

Aberystwyth harbour

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Lastly to my favourite haunt, Tanybwlch beach,  where the suction of the huge waves grinds and stacks up the dark cobbles on the strand.  Water broke over the whole length of the jetty and streaming in an unbroken sheet over its surface.

Tanybwlch beach pounded by Storm Frank

Tanybwlch beach pounded by Storm Frank

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So unlike the idyllic waves of Christmas Day.

Tanybwlch beach on Christmas day

Tanybwlch beach on Christmas day

 

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Nobody wants the Queen’s Hotel

by the Curious Scribbler

I mentioned in my last blog the cutting-edge luxury of the former Queen’s Hotel on the northern end of the promenade.  Opened on the newly extended promenade in 1866 its grand bedrooms offered hot and cold running water, – both fresh and salt –  allowing the guests to enjoy the advantages of sea immersion in the comfort and privacy of their rooms.  It was an extravagantly fashionable building, blending the traditional grey local stone with imported sandstone window dressings, and topped off with a frenchified mansard roof pierced by attic dormers.  The building rises from a basement to four storeys, even a fifth storey at the corner tower, and the observant passerby can find ornamental assemblages of minerals set in panels in the stonework beneath the ground floor windows on three sides of the building. It was designed by the London architects C.F. Hayward and H.D. Davies.

The Queens Hotel, forlorn and for sale

The Queen’s Hotel, forlorn and for sale

The Queen's Hotel and former Council Offices, Aberystwyth

The Queen’s Hotel and former Council Offices,
Aberystwyth

The business was not very successful and sold by its proprietor in 1877.  However it continued as a hotel and in 1910 an advertising pamphlet emphasized the ‘package deals’ of train fare and accommodation, which could be purchased from Great Western Railway stations in low season.   The particulars of a Contents Sales in 1914 show that it was then richly furnished with lots of high Victorian mahogany furniture, jardinieres and bronze marble-topped tables.  It remained in service as a hotel with 100 bedrooms and a dining room seating 180 until requisitioned in World War II.  In 1950 a five day sale disposed of the entire contents of the hotel and nearby stabling.    The empty building was acquired for ‘Swyddfa’r Sir’ the County Offices, and  in the past decades it has housed many departments including the Police Station, the Registry Office, and the Ceredigion County Archive.  One by one these functions have moved away, the first two to purpose-built palaces on St Brieuc Avenue, the County Archive to a restored and renewed Town Hall.  Empty and forlorn for the last couple of years, the Queen’s had a brief starring role as a location for the TV drama Hinterland.  A case of art imitating life:  the old building was cast as the Police Station!

After 18 months on the market for £1 million the building has attracted no buyers, and will be auctioned in London by Allsop’s on 18 September.  Startlingly at a time when £275,000 is the price for a one-roomed house with bed shelf in Islington, a mere £250,000 is the guide price for this gigantic Victorian hulk on our seafront!  The stately old building is Lot 171 amongst a national assortment of 285 frankly rather ordinary houses and flats.     It is, at least, expected to raise more money than Lot 236, a bankrupt guest house in Rhyl.   Aberystwyth waits anxiously to learn who the next owner will be.

For more on the Queen’s Hotel see Helen Palmer’s informative blog on https://archifdyceredigionarchives.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/memories-lost-and-found-swyddfar-sir-and-ceredigion-archives/

 

A geological panel below a window on the Queen's Hotel

A geological panel below a window on the Queen’s Hotel

A geological panel below a window on the Queen's Hotel

Another geological panel below a window on the Queen’s Hotel

A geological panel below a window on the Queen's Hotel

A third geological panel below a window on the Queen’s Hotel

 

 

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Aberystwyth’s Bathrock Shelter resurrected

 

Pristine and restored, the Bathrocks shelter

Pristine and restored, the Bathrock shelter on a chilly afternoon, 21 August 2014

Back in its rightful place, after the terrible drubbing during the storm of 3-6 January,  is the neo-Georgian shelter on the Aberystwyth Promenade.  It was publicly reopened last Saturday with the mayor, the Chairman of the County Council, the MP and other dignitaries in attendance.  It is salutory to remember that the Cadw listing recently bestowed on the building probably saved its life.  There were until three years ago two such shelters on the promenade, the smaller of which was demolished and removed in January 2011.  The surviving Bathrock Shelter was listed Grade II shortly afterwards.

The name of the shelter ‘Bathrock’ alludes to a former building in this position:  Dr Rice William’s Marine Baths which were built in 1810.  At the time they were the most northerly feature on the sea front, a two storey building providing Aberystwyth’s visitors with the curative benefits of sea water served in a variety of ways in a situation of complete privacy.  Each private room provided a bath ‘six feet long and two and a half wide, lined with Dutch tile, which being much less porous than marble, is more effectually cleansed from all impurities to which they are liable’.  Baths could be taken cold or hot, and in the form of a plunge bath, a vapour bath or a shower.  Boilers heated the water, and the visitors could be further assured that the water was drawn along cast iron pipes reaching far out into the bay.  The spectre of inshore pollution from other bathers, or the donkeys pulling bathing huts, could thereby be avoided.

The baths eventually closed in 1892.  Bathing was still in vogue but  by this time for those requiring an indoor experience, there was a new bath house on Bath Street, which instead boasted the Chalybeate waters of a nearby spring, while at the Queen’s Hotel on the promenade the guests enjoyed taps dispensing, hot water, cold water and sea water into their baths.  The promenade was being extended in a northerly direction, and the remains of the old marine baths were incorporated into it,  roughly filled, it seems, with rubble from the demolition.  In 1924 a new shelter, glazed down its spine and providing seating facing in each direction, was erected on the curved prominence above bath rocks.

The remains of the old bath house was unexpectedly revealed to view when the winter storm tore away the stone facing of the promenade.  The sea soon excavated a hole through which the rubble fill was sucked away exposing a sea cave beneath the shelter.  It was a man-made cave, with walls, partitions and even a fireplace.  As the concrete pad on which the shelter stands collapsed into the void, the building flexed, twisted and subsided into the hole.   Police stood by to prevent incautious exploration, and in the following weeks the damaged structure was dismantled and stored pending restoration.

By January 7th 2014 the Bathrock Shelter was subsiding into the hole below

On January 7th 2014 the Bathrock Shelter was subsiding into the hole below

The Hole which opened under the Bathrock Shelter on 4 January 2014

The Hole which opened under the Bathrock Shelter on 4 January 2014

 

The partitions of the rooms of the old bathhouse could be clearly seen.

The partitions of the rooms of the old bathhouse could be clearly seen.

The shelter is the last item in a programme of repair of the promenade which was in the main completed before the season began at Easter.  In the blazing days of July, when temperatures often exceeded those in Spain, and the sea temperature reached a balmy 17C the old timbers of the restored and replaced shelter was await their first coat of paint.

On 6 July 2014  the shelter was back, but  yet to be painted.

On 6 July 2014 the shelter was back, but yet to be painted.

Now the weather has turned grey and cold, and in the coming winter it will be particularly appreciated as a windbreak on the bracing seafront.

Necessary shelter on a chilly afternoon.  21 August 2014

Necessary shelter on a chilly afternoon. 21 August 2014

 

 

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Devastating storm hits Aberystwyth Promenade

When I wrote on 4 November of the ferocious storm which tore up pavings on the promenade it seemed an exceptional occurence.  But the combined high winds and spring tides of Friday 3 January have demoted that earlier storm to the merest footnote. Yesterday it seemed the whole of Aberystwyth was out upon the promenade, viewing the devastation.

Devastation on Aberystwyth Promenade

The telescope, still attached to its huge coping stone, stands awry amongst the displaced paviours and sand

As with the last storm the most violent damage was wreaked in the area opposite the Marine Hotel with great areas of ornamental paving and setts tossed like lego bricks amongst the invading beach sand.  Impressively the sprouting spring bulbs in the seaside planters hung bravely on by the roots, their pale green leaf shoots suddenly exposed by the seceding waves.  Long stretches of the familiar white railings however, were gone. A little further south the Victorian timber shelter seemed, at first glance to have escaped lightly, with just some splintering to its pitch pine frame.  It stands on a man made drum shaped piece of sea wall, which perhaps deflected the waves upwards.  But closer inspection revealed a sinister hole in the paving between it and the sea. Viewed from the beach, it became clear that the sea had excavated a cave into the void beneath the shelter.  A group of police assembled as the tide receded, to prevent risky exploration beneath the hole in the roof.  I am told this promentory was once the site of tha Aberystwyth gallows. Another bystander said there had formerly been changing rooms accessible from the sands below the shelter.

A sea cave excavated beneath the public shelter

Further towards the pier, the railings of the paddling pool had been felled as a single entity, and deep beach sand extended right across the road.

Beach sand covers the promenade

The paddling pool

Even where the land level rises at the south end of the promenade the suction of the waves had neatly removed individual or small areas of the ornamental setts with which the prom was refurbished some years ago.

Paving lifted by the force of the sea

This surely will be remembered as the great Aberystwyth storm, – depending on the next one, which they say will be along tomorrow….

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