Saturday 19 December 2015

29 The Brangwyn Panels

29. The Brangwyn Panels – 19 December 2015 (photo: three panels)

During the past fifty years the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority was sited in Morriston, the Welsh Maritime and Industrial Museum moved from Bute Street, Cardiff, to Swansea Marina, and the Wales National Swimming Pool relocated from Cardiff’s Empire Pool to near Singleton Hospital.  But before acquiring any of these, Swansea gained a fine asset by accommodating the British Empire Panels, better known as the Brangwyn Panels.

In the 1930s two acres of Victoria Park were taken for the site for a new Guildhall, to replace the Somerset Place building that is now the Dylan Thomas Centre.  That building had been erected in 1825-29, enlarged in 1848 and again later; but as early as 1907 it was evident that a larger building was needed for the additional responsibilities of local government.  The First World War and other matters delayed commencement, so the foundation stone of a new Guildhall was laid in May 1932.  As with building Cefn Coed Hospital, Tir John Power Station and the Mains Drainage Scheme, the government’s unemployment relief scheme facilitated the construction of Swansea’s new Guildhall.

While construction, which included an Assembly Hall on the southern side, was underway, news emerged that the trustees of Lord Iveagh were offering the British Empire Panels, painted by Sir Frank Brangwyn, to any corporation deemed able to house and display them worthily.  Councillor Leslie Hefferman viewed them, and on his return from London urged his colleagues to declare Swansea’s interest.

In 1924 the businessman and philanthropist Edward Guinness, Lord Iveagh, had offered to meet the cost of a mural painting to be placed in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster, to commemorate peers killed in the First World War.  Frank Brangwyn, who had been apprenticed to William Morris, was a member of the Royal Academy, and who had served as an official First World War artist, was chosen for this commission.  His home in Sussex contained large enough studios for the scale of projects he undertook.  Having begun by producing large panels of war scenes (which can be seen in the National Museum of Wales), he set these aside to enhance the somewhat gloomy Royal Gallery with ‘decorative painting representing various dominions and parts of the British Empire’.  He wished to show a world of beauty and abundance, drawing on his wide travels and his studies of animals in London Zoo.

But Brangwyn’s main supporter Lord Iveagh died in 1927, and the Royal Commission on Fine Art insisted that the five panels then completed be displayed in the Royal Gallery: previously it was understood that only the entire completed set would be displayed.  Sadly the reception to the five panels was unfavourable – the members of the Commission felt that the work was unsuitable for where it was to be displayed.

After years of working on this huge undertaking Brangwyn was bitterly disappointed, but he completed the sixteen panels, which were displayed at the 1933 Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia.  He considered the British Empire Panels, which took him seven years, to be his magnum opus.

Cardiff, where Brangwyn had lived, was among the municipalities interested in housing the panels, though since the ceiling height of the Assembly Hall under construction could be raised to accommodate them, it was to Swansea that the panels went, to what was named the Brangwyn Hall.  The Guildhall was opened in October 1934 by the Duke of Kent, youngest son of King George V, and Brangwyn generously presented many related drawings and studies to Swansea, some of which are displayed in the corridors of the Guildhall. 
The Brangwyn Hall seats around 1,200 people, and was Wales’s only large, purpose-built concert hall until St David's Hall opened in Cardiff.  Meanwhile the British Empire panels, deemed too colourful and lively for the House of Lords, can be appreciated by concert-goers and visitors alike in Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall.  

Saturday 12 December 2015

28 The Bush Hotel

28. The Bush Hotel (photos: The Bush [2], Dylan and Leon Atkin) - 12 December 2015

The 1851 Swansea Guide describes one prominent building as follows: ‘This old-established house, in High-street, is kept by Mr and Mrs Sayer, who from its convenient position, its commodious stabling, and superior entertainment, continue to maintain its wonted reputation’.  Those proprietors have been long gone, as more recently has the establishment itself, notwithstanding being a Grade II listed building.  Like such well-known pubs as the No 10 in Union Street, the Three Lamps in Temple Street, and the Antelope in Mumbles, the Bush Hotel is no more.

The Bush used to stand on the east side of High Street; it was a Georgian building with a porch and a railed balcony, supported by cast-iron columns.  Such was the importance of this hostelry that Swansea historian W.H. Jones of the Royal Institution of South Wales brought out a booklet about it in 1915.  A notable visitor after the Civil War was Oliver Cromwell, described as ‘Lorde of this Towne’ when he first came to Swansea in May 1648. 

In the course of visiting Swansea in August 1802 Admiral Lord Nelson, along with Lord William and Lady Hamilton, dined at the Bush.  The Portreeve gave a banquet at which both Nelson and Sir William were awarded the freedom of the town.

In the early nineteenth century landlord William Jones added a ballroom where Grand Dances were held, especially during Race Week on Crymlyn Burrows, and the Bush became an important meeting place. 

Sir John Morris chaired the meeting at the Bush in July 1804 that facilitated the building of the Mumbles Railway.  Initially a mineral line, three years later it began carrying fare-paying passengers to a regular timetable – so becoming the oldest passenger railway in the world. 

In 1905 the Bush Hotel was acquired by Mr and Mrs D.J. Thomas, and was patronised at times by a Grammar School teacher of the same name and initials – the father of Dylan Thomas.

During the Second World War, when three consecutive nights of aerial bombardment during February 1941 exhausted water supplies, draught beer was used to combat fires from the incendiary bombs; so the building survived - unlike the Thee Lamps. 

After Dylan Thomas had moved from Swansea, he stayed at the Bush on occasions when visiting the town.  Jeff Towns’ fine book ‘Dylan Thomas: The Pubs’ reproduces two telegrams sent by Dylan from Laugharne to composer Dr Daniel Jones, then living at 22 Rosehill Terrace.  The second one in October 1953 asks ‘Can you meet Bush 1.30 today on my way to America – Dylan.’  This was before Dylan took the train to London for his fateful fourth visit to North America, for the New York performances of Under Milk Wood.  So the Bush became the final Swansea pub patronised by Dylan Thomas; among those who joined him that afternoon along with Dan Jones were fellow poet Vernon Watkins and Rev. Leon Atkin, the unconventional minister of St Paul’s Congregational Church in St Helen’s Road.

The terracotta-coloured Bush Hotel had a brief resurgence in the early years of the twenty-first century as ‘Swansea’s premier Gay Destination’.  But then it stood empty for some years, and during this time of neglect it suffered from severe weather damage and vandalism.  An inspection in 2013 by structural engineers and Swansea Council's building control surveyor concluded that the building was a dangerous structure, and ordered its demolition.  The owners of the site, Coastal Housing, claim that some aspects of the hostelry will be retained in what is erected in its place. 
Certainly such aspects as the seventeenth century visit of the future Lord Protector, the meeting that led to the first passenger-carrying railway in the world, and the departure of the town’s most famous poet, all merit some form of retention. 

Saturday 5 December 2015

27 Bacon Hole and Minchin Hole

 27. Bacon Hole and Minchin Hole (photo: Red Lady of Paviland) - 5 December 2015

Climate change is nothing new: several millennia ago the area now occupied by the Bristol Channel was a vast plain containing immense herds of game, which explains the variety of animal bones found in the limestone caves of peninsular Gower’s south coast.  The famous Red Lady of Paviland, which is the earliest human skeleton found in the British Isles, dates from that time before the sea swept in.

The entrances to Gower’s many bone caves are 20ft to 30ft above the present sea level at high tide.  Pennard cliffs, which were given to the National Trust in 1954, contain two of particular note that are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest - Bacon Hole and Minchin Hole. 

Bacon Hole is just west of Hunts Bay and east of the National Trust car park, and can be approached from above.  Bones of giant ox, bison, reindeer, wolf and hyena have been found there, and been deposited in Swansea Museum and the National Museum of Wales.  The larger animals would not have got inside the cave, but their carcasses would have been dragged there by wolves and hyena.

In 1912 ten dark red horizontal and parallel bands at about one metre high were discovered on a cave wall and it was hoped this might be an example of early man’s cave drawing, as in the cave art in France and Spain.  Two experts were called in - Abbé Henri Breuil from Paris and William Sollas, Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford.  The markings seemed authentic, and an iron gate was placed just inside Bacon Hole to prevent damage to the markings.  When the two professors had visited, the conditions had been especially dry but over time the markings were seen to change shape, and it seemed that they were caused by the seepage of minerals within rather than by any human activity.  By 1914 much of the gate could be removed.  Such items as an Iron Age bowl and a Dark Age bronze brooch were recovered from Bacon Hole, whose name might be from a large stalactite near the entrance which resembles a flitch of bacon, or perhaps the name was suggested by the red ochre on the walls.  Over 300 pounds of bones have been recovered.

Nearby Minchin Hole (sometimes rendered Mitchin Hole) is Gower’s largest cave, and is best approached going from the car park straight down to Foxhole Bay, with a short scramble eastward over the rocks.  The cave floor of stalagmite and breccia slopes up steeply.  In the 1850s the first excavator was Colonel Edward Wood, who lived at Stouthall from 1842 until his death in 1876, along with the Scottish naturalist and palaeontologist Dr Hugh Falconer.  Subsequently there have been thorough post-war excavations which have yielded immense finds.  Bones of reindeer, wolf, hyena, bison and even lion bones have been found there, along with remains of soft-nosed rhinoceros.  Roman pottery has been recovered, 750 shards of pottery, and coins from Roman times spanning three centuries through to one from the time of Edward III, in over 100 tons of cave deposits that have been examined. 

Minchin Hole may have been occupied during the late third and the early fifth century, during Roman times and the Dark Ages, for traces of hearths indicate human occupation, along with the pottery and various utensils.
During the campaign for female enfranchisement, Miss Emily Phipps, headmistress of Swansea’s Municipal Girls’ School, spent the night of the 1911 census with some female companions in a cave in Pennard.  She reasoned that since women were denied the vote they should not be included in the census return.  We do not know precisely which cave was used, but for ease of access and comparative comfort one hopes that it was Bacon Hole where she stayed until daybreak.

Saturday 28 November 2015

26 Dr Ernest Jones, psycho-analyst

26. Dr Ernest Jones (photos: Freud, Morfydd Owen, Ernest Jones, Grammar School) - 28/11/15

A few months ago we wrote about Morfydd Owen, the brilliant mezzo-soprano and composer who died tragically in 1918 and is buried in Oystermouth cemetery.  Today we look at the life of her husband, psychoanalyst Dr Ernest Jones.

In Gowerton a blue plaque presented by the British Psychoanalytical Society hangs above the front door of number 12 Woodlands Terrace.  On New Year’s Day 1879, when Gowerton was still known as Gower Road, that semi-detached house became the birthplace of Ernest Jones.  The son of a colliery manager, he went to Swansea Grammar School, won a scholarship to Llandovery College, and from Cardiff University went on to University College Hospital, London, qualifying as a doctor in 1900 when aged 21.  Having read of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical approach in a German psychiatric journal, Jones began to use those techniques in dealing with mental illness, although the medical establishment was wary of this emphasis on the id and the libido, and he had to resign from his post at the London hospital. 

In 1908 Ernest Jones organised the world’s first psychiatric conference at Salzburg, when he first met Sigmund Freud, whose major biography he was later to write, published between 1953 and 1957 in three volumes.  While teaching in the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto from 1911 to 1913, Jones published psychoanalytical works on Hamlet and on dreams and nightmares, and coined the term ‘rationalisation’.

Jones had an apartment in London at 69 Portland Court, and purchased The Plat, a Jacobean cottage in Sussex, for a weekend retreat.  His first wife was the talented Welsh musician, composer and mezzo-soprano, Morfydd Owen from Treforest, to whom he proposed on their third meeting.  Tragically she died after an operation for appendicitis in Mumbles in 1918 aged 26.  Jones remarried the following year – he proposed to Czechoslovakian Katharina Jokl within three weeks of their meeting.  They had four children, including the writer Mervyn Jones, and a daughter Gwenith, who died aged seven. 

Jones was influenced by Melanie Klein’s series of lectures in the new field of child analysis, and he encouraged her move to London in 1926.  Her approach and the therapeutic techniques for children that she devised were very different from those of Freud’s daughter Anna, and Jones championed Klein’s approach.  This caused sharp disagreement between Jones and Freud, and members of the British Society were polarised into rival factions in what became known as the ‘Jones-Freud controversy’.  However cordial relations were later resumed between the two psychoanalysts.

For many years the Jones family had owned a holiday cottage Tŷ Gwyn, the former bakery in Llandmadoc, which on the wall had a framed map of Gower, drawn by and signed, as an eleven-year-old schoolboy ‘Ernest Jones 19/11/1890’.  Tŷ Gwyn was a welcome holiday retreat, for he loved the Gower countryside.  He was also a keen ice skater and a fine chess player, writing a psychoanalytical study of the life of an American chess genius. 

Ernest Jones was twice President of the International Psychoanalytical Association, for several years each time, and was instrumental in the British Medical Association coming to officially recognise psychoanalysis in 1929.  Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Jones bravely flew to Vienna to bring Freud and nearly fifty German and Austrian Jews away from the Nazi threat to safety in London. 

Ernest Jones died in London in 1958 aged 78, was cremated at Golders Green crematorium, with his ashes buried in Gower in Cheriton churchyard, in the grave of his young daughter Gwenith, and where his second wife was later to be buried. 

Fluent in German, the language of the early psychoanalysts, this Gowertonian became the first English-speaking psychoanalyst and its leading exponent in the English-speaking world.  His uncompleted autobiography called ‘Free Associations’ was published posthumously in 1959.             

Saturday 21 November 2015

25 Blue Plaques

25. Earlier Blue Plaques (photos: Harry Secombe, Dylan, Ernest Jones, Amy Dillwyn) - 21/11/15

The idea of placing blue plaques on buildings with connections to famous people or significant events probably originated in 1866 in London, where the scheme is now administered by English Heritage.  From that start it has spread in various forms to many cities throughout the world.  Over the last three years Swansea Council has erected twelve blue plaques to commemorate various people and places, the most recent being in Cockett to physicist Edward ‘Taffy’ Bowen.

Besides these plaques put up by the Council, Swansea has six earlier blue plaques.  One is on the promenade by the West Cross Inn, with another outside Mumbles Nursing Home.  Both of these were installed by the Amy Dillwyn Society and funded by the Llysdinam Trust, to honour the female industrialist and philanthropist Amy Dillwyn.

A third was unveiled by the Heritage Foundation in 2002 to Harry Secombe, outside St Thomas Church in Swansea’s Eastside.  It states ‘Sir Harry Secombe CBE 1921–2001 - goon, comedian and singer, who served here as a boy chorister’.  

Gowerton contains one at the birthplace in Woodlands of psychoanalyst Dr Ernest Jones, the first biographer of his mentor Sigmund Freud, and who in 1938 enabled Freud along with other Jews to escape Nazi persecution in Vienna by coming to London.  Ernest Jones also has a blue plaque in London.

Swansea’s earliest blue plaque used to be outside 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, the birthplace of Dylan Thomas.  The light blue plaque that stated ‘Dylan Thomas poet 1914-1953 was born in this house’ was placed there around 1963 by TWW – Television Wales and the West, the independent television company that preceded Harlech Television (now HTV).  That plaque was replaced by a dark blue plaque with the word ‘poet’ changed to ‘a man of words’, a phrase to encompass Dylan’s short stories, film scripts and of course his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’.

Just as the Council’s twelve plaques have included not just people but also places like Cwmdonkin Park and St Helen’s rugby ground, so the sixth plaque is on the limekiln near the entrance to Kilvrough Manor in Gower.  This states ‘Kilvrough Home Farm - Limekiln - Early Nineteenth Century’.  The Home Farm was purchased by the agent of Kilvrough estate Tom Jenkins, grandfather of local poet the late Nigel Jenkins, when the estate was sold at auction in 1919.  

Kilvrough Manor had been purchased in 1820 by Major Thomas Penrice (no connection with the Penrice estate), who built the Gower Inn at Parkmill.   The estate passed to his nephew, also called Thomas Penrice, who built Parkmill School and leased the land that became Pennard’s golf course.  The estate passed to his elder daughter Louisa, who became Lady Lyons when her husband Admiral Algernon Lyons was knighted.  But the death in 1918 of their son, to whom they had transferred the property, made them liable to double death duties, which, along with the loss of German investments during the First World War, led to the break-up of the estate.  After use as a youth hostel for twenty years, Kilvrough Manor was acquired by Oxfordshire Education Committee as an Outdoor Pursuits centre, which has enabled young people to benefit from first-hand experience of Gower over many decades. 

That limekiln on Kilvrough Home Farm land is one of the many throughout peninsular Gower from when limestone quarrying was at its height.  A double kiln stands at High Tor on Penmaen burrows, for limestone quarried from South Gower cliffs was taken by boats across the Bristol Channel to enrich the lime-less fields of north Devon and Somerset.                               

Though it is reported that Llanelli Community Heritage Society has placed fifty blue plaques in the town, quantity is not everything, and Swansea’s more modest number commemorates a fascinating mixture of people and events connected with this area.

Saturday 14 November 2015

24 Rees Howells and the Bible College

24. The Bible College of Wales (photos: Rees Howells, Bible College x2) - 14 Nov 2015

The School of Ministry at the Bible College of Wales in Derwen Fawr has just concluded its first semester, with students from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, North America, as well as from England and Wales.

That property called Derwen Fawr used to belong to the architect Sir Charles Tamlin Ruthen, designer of Pantygwydr Baptist Church, the Mond Buildings and the former Carlton Cinema (now Waterstone’s bookshop), among other prominent Swansea buildings.  After the First World War, Ruthen served as Director General of Housing during Lloyd George’s Coalition Government.  A staunch Liberal, he developed the 17-acre Derwen Fawr estate, importing stonework from Italy for the Italian gardens, and hosting Lloyd George and other prominent Liberals at garden parties.  After Ruthen died in September 1926 his widow promised first refusal on the property to Rev. Rees Howells, who had established the Bible College at Glynderwen two years earlier. 

Born in Brynamman in 1879, the sixth of eleven children, Rees Howells had been influenced by the Welsh Religious Revival of 1904-05 to serve God with the South African General Mission.  He returned to Britain in 1920, and two years later received the vision of establishing a Bible College in Wales to train and equip those seeking to serve God in mission work.  He followed the principle of George Műller, who, in the nineteenth century by faithful prayer without the backing of any Christian denomination, had looked to God to prompt people to provide the means for the purchase and upkeep of his orphanages in Bristol.

Without making special appeals, Rees Howells and those who shared his vision prayed, and sufficient funds came in to purchase the seven-acre Glynderwen estate in Blackpill, to found the Bible College of Wales.  That site later became Emmanuel Grammar School, in recent years developed into the Bryn Newydd Estate of twenty-nine homes.

The second property purchased was Derwen Fawr, which besides the large main house comprised three cottages and 17 acres.  In the grounds a chapel was erected to seat 200, a conference hall to accommodate 400, and men’s and women’s hostels, with funds to meet the extensive financial outlay being ‘prayed in’.

In addition to the residential Bible College, on the opposite site of what was then called Derwen Fawr Lane, a third estate Sketty Isaf was purchased in 1932 as a school for the children of missionaries.  Three years later this moved to Glynderwen which became Emmanuel Grammar and Preparatory School.  In 1970 the school had 450 pupils and 27 staff, serving as a first-class provider of education in Swansea until closure in 1994.

While people were being trained to serve God in missionary work, the Bible College was used for intercessory prayer for issues further afield, particularly throughout the dark days of the Second World War.  For some people the concept of people gathering to pray for hours at a time during the war might seem an irrelevance, but others believed that those prayers contributed to the overthrow of the Nazi tyranny. 

Rees Howells died in 1950, and his life and ministry have been documented in Norman Grubb’s book Rees Howells, Intercessor, which has been translated into more than 40 languages.  His son Samuel Howells became Director, but the Bible College faced difficult times, especially during the 1990s.  It closed as a residential college and part of its land was developed as housing.  

Thankfully in recent years Derwen Fawr itself has undergone extensive renovation and refurbishment, through the impetus and generosity of Cornerstone Community Church of Singapore, which purchased the property in 2012.  It was officially re-opened in May 2015 aiming to continue and develop the vision given to Rees Howells, with a vibrant Liberty Church established on the site. 
Though the Bible College is in South Wales, the mixture of student nationalities demonstrates that the Christian gospel is for people of all nations.     

Saturday 7 November 2015

23 Sir Arthur Whitten Brown

23. Sir Arthur Whitten Brown (photos: Heathrow statue, plaque, memorial) - 7/11/15

Some achievements that seemed impossible a hundred years ago are now almost commonplace.  Visitors attain the summit of Mount Everest (albeit not always unscathed), scientists visit and work at the South Pole, and each day hundreds of people fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Such accomplishments used to be beyond the scope of any except the most highly skilled and best equipped men and women, and one of these subsequently came to live and work in Swansea. 

The names Alcock and Brown became famous in June 1919 when they achieved the first non-stop transatlantic flight.  They flew in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber from St John’s, Newfoundland, to Ireland in sixteen hours, of which fourteen-and-a-half were over the north Atlantic.  They covered 1,890 miles at an average speed of 115 mph and encountered fog, ice, snow, and much bad visibility.  Several times Brown, who was navigator, had to climb out onto the wings to remove ice from the engine air intakes.  They landed in Connemara, County Galway, near their intended destination but in a bog, which caused some damage to the aircraft, though neither airman was injured: two memorials now mark the site.    

For achieving the first non-stop transatlantic flight they were presented by Winston Churchill with the £10,000 prize put up by the Daily Mail - and they were knighted by King George V at Windsor Castle.  

But six months later 27-year-old Lancastrian Sir John Alcock, the pilot on that epic flight, was killed when a new Vickers Viking amphibian that he was flying to the Paris air show crashed in fog near Rouen in Normandy.  For his colleague, however, there remained years of useful service ahead.

Born to American parents in Glasgow, Arthur Whitten Brown’s career was in engineering.  He took up British citizenship during the First World War when his plane was twice shot down over France; the second time resulted in him becoming a prisoner of war and interned in Switzerland.  In 1923 he was appointed chief representative for Metropolitan-Vickers (formerly British Westinghouse) in the Swansea area.  In his office at 62 Wind Street (part of present-day Ice Bar), one of the propellers from the Vickers Vimy hung on the wall for many years, before he presented it to RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. 

At the time of the 1926 General Strike, Whitten Brown served with the County Borough of Swansea Police as a special constable.  Two years later he went to Burry Port to congratulate the American Amelia Earhart, who in 1928 became the first woman to fly the Atlantic.  Although she had not been pilot or navigator on that occasion, four years later she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo.

He taught pilots at Fairwood Airport, for after the Air Training Corps was formed in 1941, Whitten Brown became the first Commanding Officer of 215 (City of Swansea) Squadron Air Training Corps.

During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard as a Lieutenant-Colonel, before rejoining the RAF to work in RAF Training Command dealing with navigation.  But the death in a 1944 aircraft crash in the Netherlands of his only son Arthur, while serving with the RAF, affected him deeply.  Sir Arthur Whitten Brown died in 1948 from an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets aged 62, and is buried in Buckinghamshire.

In Langland a plaque in the wall in Overland Road states that he had lived initially in Overland Court, while another plaque is placed above an entrance to Belgrave Court in the Uplands: the 1939 Register of Electors lists him and his wife Margaret at flat number 24.
At Heathrow airport a statue of Alcock and Brown was unveiled in 1954 - it now stands outside the visitor centre. 

Saturday 31 October 2015

22 Frances Ridley Havergal, Christian Poetess

22. Frances Ridley Havergal (photos: plaque, house, Astley church,Frances) - 31/10/15

When Frances Ridley Havergal moved in October 1878 into a rented house in Caswell, she was a 41 year-old hymn writer, an accomplished musician and singer, a writer of devotional books for children, and an esteemed speaker at Christian meetings.  The house then called ‘Park Villa’ stands at the top of Caswell Hill, at the junction with Caswell Avenue.  It was later re-named ‘Havergal’, with a plaque placed in the wall in 1937 stating that Frances Ridley Havergal, Christian poetess and hymn writer, lived there before her death on 3rd June 1879.

In Victorian times it was still customary for families on Sundays to attend a place of worship.   The vicar of a parish was an important person in the community, and such was Rev. William Havergal, a notable church organist and composer, whose contribution to church music is remembered by a plaque inside Worcester Cathedral.  His youngest child Frances was born in 1836 in the Rectory of Astley, a village in Worcestershire.

As she grew up her musical and poetic abilities became evident, but Frances experienced times of poor health, and with her alert mind she chafed at the enforced rest.  A good linguist, she became fluent in French and German to appreciate visits to Switzerland and Germany.  But being the daughter of a clergyman and accustomed to attending church did not make her a Christian, for only after her mother’s death when Frances was aged 11 did she come into a relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  Her own times of illness and the later deaths of two nieces and one of her brothers did not undermine her trust in God, whom she knew to be good, personal and in control whatever happened to her. 

Many of her seventy hymns in English (she wrote one in French) are still sung today – among the 12 in the Methodist Hymn Book are ‘Who is on the Lord’s side?’, ‘Like a river glorious’ and ‘Take my life and let it be’ - which has been translated into Arabic, among other languages.  Frances preferred ‘Take my life’ to be sung to a tune of her father’s instead of what she called ‘that wearisome hackneyed Kyrie of Mozart’, but the Mozart tune named ‘Consecration’ prevails today. 

When she joined her elder sister Maria at Caswell it was not for a holiday.  Requests for writing and to check her proofs flowed in from English and American editors, while correspondents sought her advice and help.  Frances enjoyed walking on the cliffs, going onto Caswell beach at low tide to explore rock pools, watching the ships with all sails up entering Swansea harbour, and she was interested to visit Mumbles Lighthouse and talk with Mr Ace, the lighthouse keeper.  Furthermore Frances became involved in temperance work, encouraging the young people to ‘sign the pledge’, and, with the Vicar of Swansea’s permission, she took Bible readings among cottagers in the village.  She sang and spoke at Swansea’s YWCA, giving a card containing the words of ‘Take my life’ to each of the women.

With no St Peter’s Church yet built in Newton, Frances would attend the village’s only place of worship - Paraclete Congregational Chapel - to play the organ and to assist with the children’s work. 

An animated personality, Frances declined several marriage proposals.  In May 1879 following a visit from American Ira D. Sankey (of the Moody and Sankey missions), she became ill and had to cancel a visit to Irish mission stations.  After a short illness she died of hepatitis and acute peritonitis, being buried in the family grave at Astley, where at her request the verse ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin’ is around her grave.  
Over the next 20 years ‘Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal’ edited by her sister sold 250,000 copies, but her lasting legacy remains her hymns, written to the glory of God.            

Saturday 24 October 2015

21 St Helen's cricket ground

21. St Helen’s Cricket (photos: Parkhouse, Pressdee, cricket ground) - 24 October

A blue plaque outside St Helen’s rugby clubhouse celebrates Swansea’s initial wins over the three major southern hemisphere sides, but St Helen’s is also famous for cricket.

As early as 1785 Swansea had a cricket club, though mainly for the gentry, and £2,000 was spent in 1848 to transform a sandbank into what became St Helen’s ground.  The South Wales Cricket Club staged an exhibition match there against the touring Australians as early as 1878.  Ten years later Sir John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penllergare was instrumental in forming Glamorgan County Cricket Club, and became its first chairman; it played in the Minor Counties Championship.

Closely associated with St Helen’s was W.J. Bancroft, Glamorgan’s first regular professional player.  Besides gaining 33 rugby caps between 1889 and 1900, he played for Glamorgan 230 times between 1889 and 1914.  In later years among the youngsters whom Billy Bancroft used to coach at St Helen’s was the elegant Swansea-born batsman Gilbert Parkhouse, who played for England.                      

In 1921 Glamorgan became the 17th county admitted to the County Championship and thus could play first-class cricket.  The Welsh county was often out of their depth in the competition, but there were signs of brilliance.  In 1927 Nottinghamshire visited St Helen’s needing merely to draw the game to clinch the County Championship: they lost by an innings, and Lancashire became champions.

On the north side of the ground the original 1880’s pavilion was demolished and replaced in 1924; later concrete terracing was built in front which obscured the lower floors.  After a cheap dismissal a batsman’s climb up the pavilion’s 72 steps must seem endless.

St Helen’s had good access to public transport with a Mumbles Railway stop outside, and could attract large crowds.  Glamorgan was fortunate to be allotted the August Bank Holiday weekends for games against the tourists - 25,000 were in St Helen’s to see the famous victory by 64 runs over the 1951 touring South Africans, when off-spinner Jim McConnon took six wickets, including a hat-trick. 

With the sandy soil the pitch could assist spin bowlers, and during the 1960s the combination of Port Eynon-born off-spinner Don Shepherd with the slow left arm spin of Mumbles-born Jim Pressdee often caused difficulties for batsmen in those days of uncovered pitches.  They each took nine wickets in an innings when Yorkshire visited St Helen’s in 1965.  That decade saw the two famous victories over the Australian tourists, who in 1964 arrived from the Manchester Test Match having retained the Ashes when their captain Bobby Simpson had scored a triple century.  They were hitherto unbeaten on the tour, but Glamorgan won an absorbing match by 45 runs.  For good measure four years later the Welsh side, captained by Don Shepherd, repeated the victory on the next Australian visit. 

A few weeks later, West Indian Garfield Sobers hit the maximum six sixes off a Malcolm Nash over - a world record.  Usually a left-arm pace bowler, Nash had the very respectable figures of 4 wickets for 64 runs when he started an experimental over of left-arm spin.  The fifth ball bowled was caught on the boundary, but the fielder Roger Davis had crossed the boundary rope, so it counted as another six.  BBC Wales outside broadcast cameras were covering other events, but happened to return to the cricket, and fittingly former Glamorgan captain Wilf Wooller was commentating from the gantry high above the Mumbles Road end. 

Yet the Welsh county could demonstrate an erratic streak, as in 1972 when after Alan Jones and Roy Fredericks had opened with a then record 330 runs for the first wicket against Northants, Glamorgan managed to lose the match!                       

But nowadays, in spite of the sterling efforts of The Balconiers, St Helen’s usually hosts just one first-class game each year. 

Saturday 17 October 2015

20 Physicist Edward 'Taffy' Bowen

20. Edward ‘Taffy’ Bowen (photos: Stepney Lane, E.G. Bowen) – 17 October 2015

With the opening of the University’s second campus, it is fitting that one of Swansea University’s most accomplished graduates is to be honoured with a blue plaque.   Physicist Edward Bowen was born in Cockett in 1911, and graduated from Swansea University in 1930.  His involvement in the development of radar technology played a crucial part in the outcome of the Second World War.

Following graduation he conducted research with a cathode-ray finder in the course of research for a doctorate from King’s College, London.  He was recruited to work in the radar development team in 1935, particularly on the detection of aircraft by the reflection of radio waves.  As part of a team of five people working at Orford Ness on the coast of Suffolk, Bowen’s task was to assemble a transmitter.  An aircraft could be detected at a range of 17 miles initially, but by early 1936 this was improved to distances up to a hundred miles.  The team was enlarged, and moved to a new research station at Bawdsey Manor near Felixstowe, to develop the radar system. 

‘Taffy’ Bowen concentrated on whether, with the challenges of the size and weight of the equipment, radar could be installed in an aircraft - and it needed to operate in cold and vibrating conditions.  Gradually the difficulties were overcome, until in September 1937 he demonstrated the application of radar by using it to locate part of the British Fleet in the North Sea.  Amid conditions of poor visibility he used radar in an aeroplane to locate the aircraft carrier Courageous, battleship Rodney and cruiser Southampton.

In 1938 he married Enid Williams from Neath, whom he had met at Swansea University: they were to have three sons. 

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Bowen’s team moved to St Athan airfield in the Vale of Glamorgan, and were engaged in trying to detect a submarine by radar.  They developed technology to enable aircraft to detect a submarine at a range of 15 miles, which was to be a major asset in the Battle of the Atlantic.  By April 1941 110 aircraft of RAF Coastal Command were fitted with radar to look out for submarines, and the search patrols drastically cut losses of Allied shipping when fitted with the powerful Leigh light.  Bowen went to North America with the British Technical and Scientific Mission (the Tizard Mission) and helped to initiate advances in microwave radar as a weapon.  He visited laboratories in the United States, informed them about airborne radar, and arranged demonstrations.  The Tizard Mission forged technological links between Britain and America over a year before the United States entered the war.  

In late 1943 Edward Bowen was invited to Australia to join the Radiophysics Laboratory, and after the war he gave addresses on the development of radar and its potential peacetime applications.  He also encouraged radio astronomy and the construction of the 210ft radio telescope at Parkes, New South Wales.  He secured funding from the American Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations for this large radio telescope, in return helping to establish American radio astronomy at the California Institute of Technology.

At the inauguration of the Parkes radio telescope he said ‘The search for truth is one of the noblest aims of mankind and there is nothing … which lends the human race such dignity as the urge to bring the vast complexity of the Universe within the range of human understanding.’  ‘Taffy’ Bowen's research turned from tracking aircraft by radar to tracking the Apollo space missions by radio telescope.  He was awarded a CBE in 1962, and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. 

This cricket-loving giant of 20th century physics declined to take out Australian citizenship, and following a stroke in 1987 he died in Sydney in 1991 aged 80.  His blue plaque will be unveiled on Thursday 29th October at Stepney Lane, Cockett where a white plaque marks his 12 years there.

Saturday 10 October 2015

19 The Port Eynon lifeboat disaster, 1916

19. Port Eynon Lifeboat Disaster (photos: statue, lifeboat) – 10 October 2015

1st January 2016 will be the centenary of the Port Eynon lifeboat disaster, when three of the crew of the lifeboat ‘Janet’ were drowned.  In their memory the white marble statue of coxswain Billy Gibbs was placed in St Cattwg’s churchyard, while inside the church the pulpit was given in gratitude to God that the lives of ten crewmen were spared.

A shipwreck during the severe westerly gales of Saturday 27 January 1883 led to the Port Eynon lifeboat station being established the following year.  The ‘Agnes Jack’, a 737-ton Liverpool steamer bound from Cagliari, Sardinia, with a cargo of lead ore for Llanelli, was wrecked off Port Eynon Point.  Even though the rocket apparatus summoned from Oxwich and from Rhossili was fired several times from the shore, the vessel was out of reach, and to the horror of those watching from the cliffs eight seamen clinging to the rigging drowned as the mast came down. 

The same day in Mumbles the barque ‘Admiral Prinz Adalbert’ from Gdansk, Poland, with a cargo of 900 tons of pitwood struck the lighthouse rocks.  In going to her aid the Mumbles lifeboat ‘Wolverhampton’ capsized three times, and four lifeboat men lost their lives.  Inside All Saints Church, Oystermouth, a memorial plaque and stained-glass window commemorate this 1883 tragedy, while outside by the west wall are the gravestones of two of the men.  This event inspired the somewhat inaccurate poem ‘The Women of the Mumbles Head’, about the Ace sisters from the lighthouse who helped one of the lifeboat crew to safety amid the storm.

Port Eynon’s lifeboat station was opened in May 1884 with the launch of the 34ft ten-oared lifeboat ‘A Daughter’s Offering’, provided through the legacy of Miss Maria Jones of Lancaster.  A team of six horses would pull the lifeboat from the station (now the Youth Hostel) down the slipway to be launched into the sea, while local people would gather on the beach to watch lifeboat practice.  Whenever the maroon distress signal sounded, those horses needed no further prompting to race down to the beach, or if ploughing they would strain at the harness until cut free. 

In 1906 the lifeboat was replaced with the ‘Janet’, named by Lady Lyons of Kilvrough.

On 1st January 1916 the SS ‘Dunvegan’ of Glasgow ran aground in a howling gale off Pennard cliffs, and the ‘Janet’ was launched around midday.  To make up crew numbers at the time of the First World War, two local men home on leave from serving in the trenches volunteered.  When it transpired that the crew of the ‘Dunvegan’ were being rescued by land with a breeches buoy, the lifeboat turned back.  Severe south-westerly gales caused the ‘Janet’ to capsize, though once the mast broke the lifeboat righted herself.  Yet within an hour she capsized again, this time with the loss of three members of the crew, and the oars.  Through the night the survivors drifted round to Mumbles, where the following morning they came ashore after 23 hours at sea, and were looked after at the Yacht Café.  The bodies of William Eynon and George Harry were later recovered and buried in Port Eynon churchyard, though not that of coxswain Billy Gibbs, on whom the life-size statue outside the church was modelled. 

Subsequently the lifeboat station closed permanently in 1919, with Mumbles and Tenby taking over the area it covered, until an inshore lifeboat station was opened at Horton in 1968 with a D-class lifeboat. 

Speaking of the 1916 disaster, Courtney Grove, son and grandson of Port Eynon lifeboatmen, said ‘My grandfather was home on leave from the trenches, but he didn’t hesitate to man the lifeboat that day, exchanging one hell for another.  That storm in 1916 was the worst in living memory.  They were men of steel in those days.’     

Saturday 3 October 2015

18 Amy Dillwyn

18. Amy Dillwyn (photos: Amy Dillwyn, David Painting book) – 3 October 2015

Among the blue plaques erected to commemorate links with famous people or events is one outside Sketty Hall to Lewis Weston Dillwyn.  But his granddaughter does not need one, for there are already two blue plaques in honour of Amy Dillwyn!  One plaque containing biographical details stands on the seafront near the West Cross Inn, with the other across the road outside Tŷ Glyn, now Mumbles Nursing Home.  Both were erected by the Amy Dillwyn Society, established in 1989 to ‘promote an interest in the arts, antiques and our local heritage and history’.

Amy Dillwyn was part of a famous family.  Besides her paternal grandfather Lewis Weston Dillwyn, her uncle was pioneer photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penllergare, her father was Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn MP of Hendrefoilan House, while her maternal grandfather was geologist Henry De la Beche.

Born in 1845 at Park Wern in Sketty, Amy grew up at the newly-built Hendrefoilan House, and was presented at Court to Queen Victoria.  She was a friend of Olive Talbot, youngest daughter of C.R.M. Talbot of Penrice and Margam.  But a privileged upbringing did not make her exempt from life’s tragedies, for her fiancé Llewelyn Thomas died of smallpox in 1864 - leaving nineteen-year-old Amy expected to settle for a life of ‘quiet spinsterhood and good works’.  She did not.

During that difficult time she turned to writing novels - ‘The Rebecca Rioter’ is considered the best of the six she had published.  Set in the Killay area, it draws on her father’s experiences of the attacks on the Pontardulais toll-gate to tell of a young working-class man’s struggles with the injustice and social inequalities of the time. Published in 1880 and reprinted in 2004, it was translated into Russian.  Amy was also a literary critic - her review of ‘Treasure Island’ for ‘The Spectator’ in 1883 first brought Robert Louis Stevenson to general notice.

But the death in 1892 of her father, the radical Liberal MP for Swansea Town, meant that Amy had to move from Hendrefoilan House, for she was left the Dillwyn Spelter Works - deeply in debt and near bankruptcy.  She moved into lodgings in Tŷ Glyn in West Cross, and courageously took over responsibility for the zinc factory - in days when for a woman to run such an enterprise was unthinkable.  She would travel daily to the offices in Cambrian Place, sometimes using the Mumbles train but at other times walking the whole way.  She was responsible for the livelihood of over a hundred men at a time when they, not she, had the vote.  Aided by a good manager, Amy turned the business around within ten years into a profitable enterprise.  When aged sixty she travelled to Algeria to inspect a seam of zinc ore, which entailed riding on a mule and going down a mine! 

Amy Dillwyn was able to purchase Tŷ Glyn, and became a benefactor of several Swansea institutions, such as The Infirmary, the YMCA and the Ragged School in Pleasant Street, where her name can be read on a foundation stone.  An advocate of women’s rights, she stood for Castle Ward in the 1907 Municipal Election as an independent candidate and served on the Town Council.  She supported the 1911 strike of the 25 women dressmakers employed at Ben Evans.

When this somewhat eccentric but courageous character, a water polo player and cigar smoker, died in 1935 aged ninety, she was cremated and her ashes interred in the grave where her parents and brother lie in St Paul’s Church, Sketty.  Dr David Painting’s 1987 biography (reprinted in 2013) and the depictions of Amy by Debra John keep alive the memory of this unorthodox and progressive lady, described on the seafront plaque as ‘the first woman industrialist’. 

Saturday 26 September 2015

17 Tir John Power Station

17. Tir John Power Station (photos: tower demolition, interior) – 26 September 2015

In 1881 London’s Savoy Theatre became Britain’s first public building to have electricity, whereas in Swansea electric light was used in 1886 in J.S. Brown’s Oxford Street premises.  Initially private companies as well as municipal councils provided electric power: Swansea Corporation’s power station was built from 1899 to 1901 in the Strand near the North Dock, and operated a general supply from December 1900.  But its 23-megawatt output struggled to meet the growth in demand for the new source of energy: by 1924 the need for a new power station was being discussed. 

James William Burr was Swansea Borough’s electrical engineer from 1914 to 1939, and he oversaw the largest engineering project in Wales - the building of Tir John power station.  The Strand power station closed in 1936 - to widespread relief having discharged smoke and grit over a wide area.

Tir John North electric generating station was built on the east side of Kilvey Hill on the edge of Crymlyn Bog between 1931 and 1935.  Unemployment relief schemes were utilised, as with building Cefn Coed psychiatric hospital, and the Main Drainage scheme.  Tir John cost £1.4 million to build, from the outset was connected to the National Grid, and operated from 1935 to 1976.  At the time it was the largest power station in Britain, being revolutionary in its use as fuel of anthracite duff.  This was a waste product from the washing of mined coal at colliery pit heads, supplied at a fixed price of four shillings per ton for 25 years, which made it the cheapest rate for fuel ever supplied to a British power station.  Once the 25 years had expired, the price increased in 1960 to 35 shillings per ton. 

Tir John was opened on Thursday 20 June 1935 by Labour MP and future Home Secretary Herbert Morrison, followed by an evening gala dinner at Swansea’s recently completed Guildhall.  The Evening Post issued a commemorative supplement for the occasion.

Tir John eventually had three 89m high brick chimneys, though by the start of the Second World War two were only partly built, being completed afterwards.  The final brick of each chimney was fitted by the wife of the foreman in charge; she was hoisted to the top of the chimney, and had her name inscribed on the brick she laid.  The third chimney was completed in 1947.

By agreement with the Great Western Railway Company, seawater for cooling Tir John was drawn from the King's Dock through an 820m (over half a mile) underground inlet tunnel.  After passing through the power station’s condensers the seawater was returned to the larger Queen’s Dock by a 1,180m long discharge tunnel; each tunnel was concrete-lined and about 3m in diameter.  The water flow was 6 million gallons per hour, with warmer water being returned to the Queen’s Dock, thereby raising its water temperature.  Every two years Tir John had to be closed for a week while the build-up of mussels – an estimated 50 tons - was removed from the inlet tunnel. 

Although one bomb fell into Crymlyn Bog, Tir John escaped war damage.  Throughout the 1950s the power station employed as many as 420 people, but in 1967 it was converted to oil burning, with a direct pipeline from the nearby Llandarcy Oil Refinery, built in 1921.  Ironically a few years later the OPEC oil embargo led to the substantial escalation of oil prices which made it uneconomic – so Tir John closed in March 1976. 

The three chimneys were blown up in June 1980, and following demolition the area became a landfill site.  Tir John’s capacity when opened was 40-megawatt, later increased to 155-megawatt, while Baglan Bay power station, built from 2000 to 2004, uses natural gas and has a 525-megawatt capacity.  That shows the extent that provision of energy has progressed, but in its time Swansea’s Tir John power station was innovative.                                                    (With thanks to Mr A.R. Walker) 

Saturday 19 September 2015

16 Vernon Watkins - Lloyds Bank

16. Lloyd’s & Vernon (photos: VW, blue plaque, church plaque, VW in 1948) – 19 September 2015

Last October a bi-lingual blue plaque was unveiled outside the former Lloyds Bank premises (now William Hill’s) at the corner of St Helens’ Road and Beach Street, in memory of Pennard poet Vernon Watkins.  Present on that occasion were his widow Gwen, whom he met while both worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, and members of their family.  Vernon had worked at that branch, which initially was located further along St Helen’s Road, for 38 years, until he retired aged 60 in 1966.  But other Swansea branches of Lloyd’s bank have significance for him too.

For much of the 20th century the principal Swansea branch of Lloyd’s occupied nos. 24 to 26 Wind Street, now the premises of the Revolution Bar.  Vernon grew up in Swansea because his father, William Watkins, came to manage that branch just before the outbreak of the First World War.  Vernon had been born in Maesteg in 1906, but his father’s managerial ability saw the Watkins family move to Bridgend, then to Llanelli, and finally to Swansea, where William Watkins worked until he retired.  The family – Vernon had one older and one younger sister – lived throughout the First World War in the Uplands, in Eaton Grove - now part of Eaton Crescent.  Subsequently they moved to ‘Redcliffe’ (now demolished) in Caswell, and later to ‘Heatherslade’ in Pennard, now the Heatherslade Residential Home.

In those pre-television days Vernon from the age of nine or ten used on Saturday afternoons to attend the Uplands Cinema, popular with many youngsters.  It occupied the site where the Uplands branch of Lloyds Bank now stands.  Vernon wrote of the excitement as a crowd of children waited behind the brass railing for the doors to open at 2 o’clock.  He was particularly enthralled with the serials starring Pearl White, where each episode ended with a cliff-hanger that left the heroine in mortal peril, as the words ‘To be continued next week’ flashed across the screen.  Years later in 1938 he saw a newspaper headline ‘Pearl White is dead’, for she died aged 49 at the American hospital in Paris, her health affected by injuries while doing her own stunts.  He was prompted to write Elegy on the heroine of childhood (in memory of Pearl White), which begins:

‘Four words catch hold.  Dead exile, you would excite

In the red darkness, through the filtered light,

Our round, terrified eyes, when some

Demon of the rocks would come

And lock you in the house with moving walls:

You taught us first how loudly a pin falls.’

The Uplands Cinema was later frequented by a young Dylan Thomas, eight years younger than Vernon, who by then was living in Caswell.

But the branch most associated with Vernon was the one in St Helen’s Road.  When his parents moved to Pennard he would travel in on the Swan bus, and later the United Welsh bus, to Hospital Square.  What is now Home Gower was then the Swansea Infirmary, opened in 1869.  Old photographs show it almost camouflaged by trees, with a police box outside, and the unexpected felling of two chestnut trees in the 1960s inspired Vernon’s poem ‘Trees in a town’.  This begins:

‘Why must they fell two chestnuts on the road?

I did not see the lorry and its load

Before a wall had grown where they had stood.

I wish I thought that sphinx-like block was good

Builders have raised, to brood upon the loss

Of those two chestnuts, where the two roads cross.’ 
During his lifetime Vernon had six volumes of poems published by Faber and Faber, and more posthumously.  The firm’s directors included the poet T.S. Eliot, who for eight years had worked in a London bank – Lloyds, of course!