Deeds and Dessert plates of Hafod

by The Curious Scribbler

Last week Jennie Macve addressed the Aberystwyth Bibliographical Group on the subject of Hafod.  Her lecture, entitled Deeds and Dinner Plates – Some Primary Sources, introduced the audience to a variety of lesser-known resources which throw light on Hafod’s past.   Deeds dating right back to Thomas Johnes’s ownership came to light a few years ago, most unexpectedly, in a solicitors’ office in Leeds, and are now in the care of the Ceredigion County Archive.  Other sources include sketches, pictures, and photographs, which trickle in from all sorts of serendipitous sources, – Ebay produced one of a pair of glass plate stereo photographs which shows the Italianate wing added by Sir Henry De Hoghton, from the perspective of the present back drive leading to the estate office in the stables.   Another collector has a Victorian souvenir Prattware plate, on which a well-known steel engraving of Hafod circa 1850 is reproduced.

A steel engraving by Newman and Co shows Hafod after 1850 with the Italianate wing to the left

The same image reproduced on an earthenware Prattware plate depicting Hafod c 1875

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A much earlier and more sophisticated source is the Hafod Service, a dessert service commissioned from the Derby Pottery in 1788.  Thomas Johnes had it made as a gift for the then Lord Chancellor Lord Thurlow.  We can only speculate as to what favour or preferment Thomas Johnes was hoping for in return.  It consisted of 45 pieces, two dozen plates and assorted bowls and dishes, each decorated with a view of Hafod.  The pictures were painted in colour by the artists at the factory working from the sketches and paintings by artist Thomas Jones of Pencerrig and other contemporary images. The originals are for the most past lost, consumed, perhaps, in the great fire at Hafod in 1807, so these valuable collectors’ plates are a vital historic resource.

As the immaculately decorated plates turn up, in museums or other collections they throw light on previously unknown views from the late 18th century.  Seventeen items from the service are in the National Museum at Cardiff, and another ten are known in other museums or collections.  The most recent to come to light, in a provincial auction house last year, seems to show a scene on the river upstream from Pontrhydygroes. Two particularly useful dishes show the lodges at either end of the approaches to the house, both of which were subsequently demolished by the Duke of Newcastle to make way for 19th century structures.   These original lodges were built to signal the diversion of the public road, (which formerly ran past Hafod) to its present route (the B4574) along a sinuous lane past Cae Meirch.  Archways over the old road down the valley clearly signalled that this was now private property.

A Derby dessert dish, dated 1788 depicts the lodge and arch at the eastern approach to the estate

It is interesting to reflect that in the last decades of the eighteenth century landowners in Ceredigion were all busily diverting roads in order to improve their properties.  We see the same pattern at Nanteos and at Llanerchaeron where the owners, all influential men, each purchased the old road past their mansion from the Trustees of the Turnpike Trusts on which they served, and thus ensured that the common drovers no longer passed their doors. Designed lodge houses served to emphasise the entrances to what was now private land. Estate improvement also often involved relocating the odd tenant farm to improve the flow of the landscape of the demesne.  Some of the old maps reveal that Johnes too, though in many ways an enlightened landlord, removed farms and cottages which he considered inharmonious in the view.

The gentle watercolours and sketches of two hundred years ago are charmingly familiar, so similar to the views which can be seen today.  But as Jennie pointed out, too many of us forget that the historic footpaths through the picturesque landscape have been hard won, through the last twenty years of restoration.  Before the present concerted efforts by The Hafod Trust in partnership with the Forestry Commission these paths were impassable, blocked and in places broken by fallen trees, eroded by hillside torrents where culverts had become blocked, or entirely obliterated by landslip. When a path is clear of obstruction we take it for granted,   and imagine it was always thus.  Hafod is in fact a fine example of unobtrusive restoration.

Walkers can pass without hindrance along the Gentleman’s walk today

Estate Manager Dave Newnham checks a recently completed stretch of path

 

A recently restored landslip on the spur path to the Cascade cavern

Hafod is open to the public at all times. For more information see www.hafod.org/

Aberystwyth Bibiographical Group see http://users.aber.ac.uk/das/texts/aberbibgr1.htm

 

Share Button

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

 

Share Button

The Coade stone Heads at Hafod

by The Curious Scribbler

In its heyday the arched doorways through the drystone wall of Mrs Johnes’s garden at Hafod  were each embellished on the garden side with rusticated dressings with a keystone  depicting a stone head: a mischievious male face – a Satyr, and a gentle female visage, – a Nymph.  These must have looked down upon Mrs Johnes, her  guests and  her gardeners as they passed out of the garden, towards the Peirian Cascade  or along the Lady’s Walk beside the river Ystwyth.

The Western garden arch as viewed from outside is of local stone

As the garden reached its nadir of dereliction after the demolition of the mansion, and the driving of a forestry road through the garden walls, someone ‘rescued’ these keystones, and for many years they resided in the private collection of Margaret Evans, parts of whose hoard of costume, artefacts and memorabilia used to be displayed in the Railway station building in Aberystwyth.  Many fragments of masonry from Hafod migrated during these years, some to nearby garden features and rockeries, others to the hands of descendents of former owners and tenants of the Estate.

Original Coade Stone Heads

The original Coade stones heads, now in the Ceredigion Museum

 

But Hafod, even at its most neglected, retained its fascination for those who knew it.  One of the earliest projects generated by local enthusiasts, the Friends of Hafod,  led to the repair and repointing of the damaged arches.  Margaret Evans remained fierce custodian of the keystones so the restoration involved the insertion of a pair of modern moulded concrete heads in place of the missing originals.  The heads were male and female faces, and the garden, still lost in the forestry plantation, became known locally as the  Adam and Eve garden.

Another Hafod enthusiast persuaded Margaret Evans to allow casts to be made of the original heads in her collection, and a replica pair were made. The interest of the originals is considerable for they are made of a ceramic artificial stone, “ Coade Stone” invented and marketed by Miss Eleanor Coade and dated 1793. Much of the ornamentation of London’s Georgian buildings and many well known statues are of Coade stone, a marvellously durable material little weathered by the passing years.  Mrs Coade called her invention ‘Lithodypyra’ literally meaning twice-fired stone.  It was a very skilled process to get the firing temperatures prolonged and correct in the kilns of the day.  A fine example of Coade stone ornamentation is at Belmont House,  Mrs Coade’s country home at Lyme Regis where nymph keystones  adorn the ground floor windows.

Belmont House, Eleanor Coade’s country house in Lyme Regis is elaborately ornamented with her patent Coade Stone

The Coade stone heads had suffered a good deal from their time in the neglected garden and the nymph in particular had lost a substantial portion of her chin.  The casting process gave the opportunity to do some facial reconstruction and the handsome facsimile casts, fashioned in a modern resin, are crisper and more perfect than the originals.  They were held in the collections of the Friends of Hafod.

The decades rolled on and both Mrs Evans’ collection and the Friends of Hafod collection found their way eventually to the custody of the Ceredigion Museum.  Almost an embarrassment of riches, for the Museum thus held  both the original and the facsimile heads.  It has been a happy co-incidence that the serious restoration of Mrs Johnes’s garden has allowed the installation of the high quality facsimiles in the place of the original keystones.  The many visitors who passed through the gates last weekend entered beneath the gaze of the very characters which once looked down on Mrs Johnes.

The facsimile heads now installed in Mrs Johnes’s Garden

 

Refreshed with the facsimile Nymph, the Western exit from Mrs Johnes’ garden

Share Button

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.

P1060041

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

P1060057

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

 

Share Button