TheTanybwlch Flats

by The Curious Scribbler

‘Tanybwlch Flats’ used to mean the extensive flat meadows of the Ystywth flood plain just inland from Tanybwlch beach.  South of the meandering river the land has played host to many public functions.  For many years the Aberystwyth Show was held here annually, and though that event has moved to a new site at Capel Bangor, there have been sheep dog trials and trotting races in recent years.

Earlier in the 20th century these fields were purchased, speculatively, by Colonel Pugh in the expectation that they would become Aberystwyth airport.  At least one early aviator, Prince George had landed a plane on Tanybwlch Flats in 1933.  This was a social triumph for the elderly landowner, Lord Ystwyth, who thus managed to finesse the royal guest from the hands of his grander neighbour Lord Lisburne at Trawscoed.   Lord Ystwyth wrote to Buckingham Palace to explain that his own land was far more suitable as an airstrip than the proposed field at Trawscoed where the Prince was to land. Those responsible for the young Prince’s safety agreed, after a reconnoitering flight to the area.  Lord Ystwyth, was a local man, Matthew Lewis Vaughan Davies, a political peer enobled after many years as a Liberal MP. As such he was always considered of lesser moment by the hereditary and Conservative gentry. So it was all the more gratifying to the 92 year old peer that his guest would land within his property, and as such could be entertained to light refreshments at the mansion before attending the Royal Welsh Show.

Prince George ( later The Duke of Kent) flew from Hendon to land on Tanybwlch Flats in 1933, on a visit to the Royal Welsh Show at Llanbadarn.

Lord Ystwyth and Prince George in 1933 on the steps of Tanybwlch mansion, flanked by local dignitaries


Today ‘Tanybwlch Flats’ has a different meaning, for the mansion has been divided and refitted as fourteen flats, which are now for sale with Raw Rees of Aberystwyth.  The dense envelope of trees which long surrounded the house has been cleared away and it stands now, stark and grey, gazing out over the shingle bar to the sea.  A new little outhouse houses a state of the art biomass boiler, which emits a wisp of smoke.

Inside, the show flats reveal a minimalist style – lots of white paint, shiny wood floors, blinds, sparse furniture and galley kitchens.  Nothing could contrast more than with the early photographs of the Tanybwlch interiors  decorated for Lord Ystwyth and his wealthy wife: rooms full of high Victorian decor, swagged velvet curtains, deeply embossed flock wallpapers, heavy legged tables and upholstered chairs.

Tanybwlch,  Lord Ystwyth’s Drawing Room



Lord Ystwyth’s Dining Room

The house was stripped of most of these interior features after the estate was sold in 1936.  One of the fireplaces now occupies the Elizabethan room at the Royal Oak Llanfarian.    Subsequent uses for the building has been as a hospital, a hall of residence for the College of Librarianship, Coleg Ceredigion catering college and training restaurant, and more recently as the private home of guitarist Uli Jon Roth.  During that last incarnation many original features such as the panelled doors were released from their hospital cladding of hardboard, and the coved ceiling of the Music room was painted and gilded like a starry sky.

As the potential homeowners flock to view its latest incarnation many will have connections with its past.  Some may have relatives who experienced isolation there during the typhoid epidemic of 1946, others may harbour riotous memories of their student days in partitioned rooms in the attics and of winds so penetrating that the carpets were known to undulate in the windy blast from the west.  The particulars all look very tranquil today:

A sitting room in one of the new flats

A sitting room in one of the new flats


A bedroom in the new flats

A bedroom in the new flats












































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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!

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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More on the memorial

by The Curious Scribbler

A number of readers of my last blog have commented that 1923 is not especially tardy for the erection of a war memorial. The Royal Artillery memorial by CS Jagger in Hyde Park was not unveiled until 1925, and my fellow historical  blogger in the Essex village of Great Dunmow reports that their much less elaborate memorial was unveiled in 1921.

In search of more background I spent a pleasant hour in the Ceredigion Archives  which afforded me the joy of inhaling the fragrance of a bound volume of 52 issues of the Cambrian News for 1923.  An experience far more evocative than scrutinising the screen of a microfiche reader.  Also, an envelope of world war I Aberystwyth miscellanea revealed several choice ephemera: an estimate and appeal for funds from the War Memorial Committee in 1921, the programme for a three day fund raising bazaar in 1923, and the programme of the actual unveiling ceremony held on Friday 14 September 1923.   I also had a trawl round the internet.


The war memorial committee handbill, flanked by the programmmes for the three day bazaar and the unveiling on 14 September 1923

The War Memorial Committee, put out a hand bill in November 1921 with an artist’s impression of the Rutelli monument.  It informs the reader that “the bronze statues, palms and dragon is being executed at Rome and is already far advanced”, while the “65 foot column and base will be composed of local stone, a gift of the Corporation of Aberystwyth”.  Actually some or all of the bronze statuary may have pre- existed the commission.  A trawl of the internet finds the identical twin of our Winged Victory in the Piazza Vittorio Veneto in Palermo, on a column designed by Ernesto Basile, erected to commemorate the unification of Sicily and Italy. It was unveiled in 1911.  She balances on the same ball as Aberystwyth’s figure, but is sited on a more ornately carved 28 metre plinth.

Victory by Mario Rutelli, on the monumento ai Caduti in palermo

The monument at the end of the Piazza Vittorio Veneto was designed by Ernesto Basile, to commemorate the unification of Sicily and Italy. After world war I,  Victory, by Mario Rutelli was set upon the the top.

The winged Victory in Palermo

The Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Palermo

Rutelli’s Winged Victory for Aberystwyth must have been a later commission, years after Palermo’s monument was updated.This sets one thinking about our buxom Aberystwyth wench, Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War.

Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War, Aberystwyth

She bears a close resemblance to the girls who can be found wrestling with sundry water monsters in Rutelli’s Fountain of the Naiads in the Piazza della Republica, Rome.  When these four figures were installed in 1902 their realism and saucy image created a considerable storm.  Representing the oceans, the rivers, the lakes  and the underground waters each embraced an allegorical animal: horse, snake, swan, and strangely finned fish and they were felt to be doing so with excessive languor and or enthusiasm.The guide books assert than an additional challenge to the public morals of Rome was that the naiads were modelled upon twin sisters, high price Roman prostitutes of the day.  A fence was erected around the fountain to curtail the view from ladies who might be offended, or prevent incursions by lewd young men.

Fontana delle Naiadi, The Naiad of the Oceans –                                                                                    Photo © Benedetto Dell’Ariccia

Compare the faces of the Naiad of the Oceans, the reclining naiaid of underground waters and of Aberystwyth’s Humanity.  I suspect she is one and the same girl.

Naiad of the underground waters Photographed by Massimo Merlini

River naiad by Rutelli, in an abandoned pose

To return, though to the Aberystwyth documents:

On their handbill in November 1921 the War Memorial Committee stated that the estimate for the memorial was £5,000 of which £2,000 had been subscribed so far. The rest was slow in coming in.

The Cambrian News of 1923 shows feverish fundraising activity – for the monument was nearing completion and more than £2600 had still to be raised.  In spring there were a series of Fund-raising teas given by members of the local gentry, – in March Lord Ystwyth’s tea raised £4-14-0d, and a week later John Williams’ tea raised £4-10-0d.  But much more money was needed.

Alderman J Barclay Jenkins had, in his then capacity as mayor of Aberystwyth, cut had the first sod on the castle ground in January 1922, and remained chairman of the Memorial Committee. When the new mayor, Councillor Captain Edward Llewellin took on the post the following November he remarked that  “he was taking on a job” and would have to do his share to clear the deficit, “ for the memorial was there now, and the debt had to be cleared”.

The solution was the Three-day bazaar, held in the College Buildings, the former railway hotel which had become the home of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.  Lord Ystwyth, a founder of the College, presided. Daily it was opened by a different local dignitary, ( from each of whom tradition would have required a substantial donation) and the townswomen strove mightily with stalls devoted to cakes, needlework, handicrafts, knitting, flowers, and games including Finger Football. By close of business on Friday 14th September, the bazaar had raised £2,300, and with a small shortfall the unveiling took place the same day with a printed programme to mark the event. Hymns were sung in both Welsh and English.

The Cambrian News reported the facts and figures the following Friday.  One hundred and eleven names from the Borough appear on the plaques. Lord Ystwyth, “aged though sprightly, slowly mounted the steps to pay tribute to our glorious dead”.  The Cambrian News, though thorough in its reporting, expresses no opinion on the monument itself, confining itself to a series of facts and figures: the total cost of the monument had been over £7000, the 65 foot column was of stone from Ystrad Meurig Quarry, the palm leaves on its shaft each 13 foot long.  The figure of Ball and Victory was 15 foot tall, and the figure at the base 14 foot high.  No adjectives at all encompass the description.

The Italian sculptor Rutelli did not attend.  I wonder whether Humanity was actually a refugee from a pre-war ornamental commission, possibly one as a naiad?   If so, her creator may not have wished to be present to fully justify her re-assignment to so much less frivolous a purpose.







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Aberystwyth’s raunchy war memorial

by The Curious Scribbler

There is a very chilly naked woman emerging from a thicket on the sea front at Aberystwyth.   She faces the sea, in the teeth of every westerly gale, on the margin of the ground once occupied by the Norman castle.  She is, to say the least, a well built girl, larger than life and fashioned in bronze.  No wispy maiden she, but a flesh and blood woman with strong thighs, pert, full breasts, large capable hands and a purposeful expression.


The bronze figure at the base of Aberystwyth war memorial


As the authors of the recent Pevsner sedately remark, “ Unexpectedly sensual for a Non-conformist country”.

For this huge empowered woman is the lower ornament on the Aberystwyth War Memorial, erected to commemorate the dead of the First World War.  Rising from her octagonal plinth is a  tapered shaft of stone, and on top of it a pretty, rather fey angel with billowing dress and an elegant pair of wings.  She appears to be about to lob a wreath of laurel, hoop-la style, onto the head of her companion below.


The Winged Victory atop the column throws a wreath of laurel


The memorial is the work of an Italian sculptor, Mario Rutelli, and was erected fairly long after the close of war, in 1923.  The angel above is, apparently, the Winged Victory, whilst the powerful nude represents Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War.  The bronze thicket from which she strains to escape is thought by some to be seaweed, by others to be rifles transmuted back into bushes.

Later tablets on the plinth commemorate the Aberystwyth dead of the Second World War, and the monument is the final destination of the Poppy day parade.


The memorial stands in the full blast of the westerlies off Cardigan Bay


The memorial stands in the full blast of the westerlies off Cardigan Bay

The winter sun goes down over Cardigan Bay

The winter sun goes down over Cardigan Bay

This western extremity of the headland north of the harbour is a place of great beauty, commanding views along the coast southward to the sharply truncated cliff of Alltwen.   Framed by woodland a little inland from the sea squats a grey stone mansion, recently released by its new owner from a dense surrounding of self-seeded sycamore and ash.  This was the home of Matthew Lewis Vaughan Davies, later Lord Ystwyth, Liberal MP for Aberystwyth from 1895 to 1921.  Lord Ystwyth was a bit of a philanderer in his life and died at the great age of 94.   Posthumously, historians have judged him harshly.  However he was undoubtedly a mover and shaker in his time, founder among other organisations, of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, and in 1923 he was made Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Aberystwyth.  It appears that it was his influence which provided his home town with what is surely the least sombre war memorial in the land.

War memorial sculpture by Mario Rutelli

A handsome girl, Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War, Aberystwyth

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