Saturday 25 July 2015

8 Saunders Lewis

8. Saunders Lewis (photos: ‘The Royal Bed’ actress, Saunders Lewis) – 25 July 2015

University College Swansea was placed in a dilemma in 1937: a Welsh lecturer who was a pacifist had been imprisoned for nine months for arson – should he be re-instated afterwards?  His two fellow-conspirators – a teacher and a nonconformist minister - had been permitted to return to their jobs, but the Council of the University was evenly split over whether the lecturer’s contract should be renewed.  Then an armaments company threatened to withdraw its annual financial support for the University.

So by a vote of 13 to 12 Saunders Lewis was dismissed as lecturer in Welsh at University College, Swansea, where he had worked since the College opened in 1922, and he moved to Llanfarian near Aberystwyth.

Saunders Lewis was one of the outstanding Welshmen of the twentieth century, a co-founder in 1925 of what became Plaid Cymru, an eminent Welsh poet, dramatist, critic and essayist.  He was born not in Wales but in Wallasey in 1893, the son of a Calvinist Methodist minister.  He grew up in a Welsh-speaking family - at that time the Welsh community in Liverpool numbered as many as 100,000, with some speaking little or no English. 

During the First World War his father moved to Swansea, while Saunders Lewis served as an officer with the South Wales Borderers.  Influenced by the campaign for Home Rule in Ireland, at a public meeting during the 1923 Mold Eisteddfod he stated prophetically: “It would be a great blessing for Wales if some Welshman did something for his nation that caused him to be put in prison”.

After plans to site a R.A.F. bombing range in first Northumberland and then in Dorset had been thwarted by local opposition, in 1936 Pen-y-berth on the Llŷn Peninsula in north-west Wales was chosen.  It was an important area of Welsh heritage on the pilgrim route to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey).  The British government refused to receive a deputation, or a petition representing half a million Welsh protesters, and the historic Pen-y-berth farmhouse mentioned in mediaeval Welsh poetry was demolished.

On 8th September three senior Plaid Cymru members - Rev. Lewis Valentine, teacher D.J. Williams and Saunders Lewis - set fire to building materials at Pen-y-berth, before giving themselves up to the police.  The following month at Caernarfon assizes the jury failed to reach an agreement, and the trial was moved to the Old Bailey in London, where all three men were sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs.

Subsequently with a wife and daughter to support Saunders Lewis concentrated on writing plays, poems and political commentaries, drawing on the Mabinogion for material for his 1948 play “Blodeuwedd”.  In 1952 he was appointed a Senior Lecturer in the Welsh department of University College, Cardiff, and in 1962 he delivered the BBC Wales annual radio lecture “The Fate of the Language”, which was a major factor in the formation of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Cymraeg (the Welsh Language Society). 

His major 1956 dramatic poem “Siwan”, of which an English version entitled “The Royal Bed” was performed at the Taliesin Theatre in March, may be partly inspired by his time in Swansea.  It deals with the aftermath of an affair in 1230 between the wife of Llewelyn the Great and a William De Breos, of the family that held the former De Breos estates in Gower.  Similarly some of the 1930 novel “Monica” – deemed controversial in those times – is set in Newton. 

Although Saunders Lewis’s association with this area may have ended nearly fifty years before his death in 1985, this eminent Welshman’s connection with Swansea is maintained in the Saunders Lewis Memorial Fund, established in 1989 to acknowledge his contribution to the literary and cultural life of Wales             


Saturday 18 July 2015

7 Sir Alfred Mond

7. The Mond Buildings (photos: statue, Sir Alfred Mond, Mond Buildings) – 18 July

A building in Union Street, Swansea, connects a statue in Clydach with both the first MP for Swansea West, and the former owner of the Derwen Fawr estate. 

Ludwig Mond, a German Jew, came to Britain in 1862 and invented the nickel carbonyl process, a technique for converting nickel oxides into pure nickel.  In 1902 along with his two sons he established the Mond Nickel Works in Clydach: by 1910 over 40 percent of the village’s population worked in the refinery.  Supplies of ore were imported from smelting works in Canada, for the Clydach works concentrated on refining, and by 1921 “The Mond” had become the largest nickel works in the world.  Ludwig Mond died at his London home near Regent’s Park in 1909.   

Subsequently a bronze statue of him was erected outside the entrance to Mond House in the Brunner-Mond Works near Northwich in Cheshire.  The life-size figure on a pedestal depicts a bearded Ludwig Mond standing with a stick in his right hand, and papers in his left behind his back, wearing a long heavy overcoat and a large floppy hat.  His statue in Clydach is a full-size copy, standing outside the red-brick entrance to the former Mond Nickel Company, which later became Inco Europe.         

At the corner of Swansea’s Union Street and Park Street are the ornate Mond Buildings, built of Portland stone in 1911 in an Edwardian baroque style, with the motto “Make yourself necessary” above both doors.  The full quote from 19th century American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is “Make yourself necessary to somebody”.

The three-storey buildings with an attic floor and an open, domed cupola were designed as the local headquarters of the National League of Young Liberals by Swansea architect Sir Charles Tamlin Ruthen, a prominent member of the Liberal party.  Among his other local designs are Pantygwydr Baptist Church in the Uplands 1906-07, the former Exchange Buildings near Swansea Museum, and the former Carlton Cinema (now Waterstone’s bookshop) in Oxford Street 1913-14.  Ruthen purchased the Derwen Fawr estate from J.C. Richardson, with seventeen acres of land.  He laid out the Italian Garden, introducing much stonework from Italy, and entertained Lloyd George and many Liberal cabinet members at Derwen Fawr.  After his death in 1926 the estate was purchased by Rev. Rees Howells for the Bible College of Wales.

The Mond Buildings were named after Ruthen’s mentor Sir Alfred Mond, second son of Ludwig Mond, who from January 1910 was Liberal MP for Swansea Town.  The constituency became Swansea West following the boundary changes with the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave the vote to men over 21, and to women for the first time (though initially only those over the age of 30).  Mond went on to serve as Minister for Health under Lloyd George from 1918 until, following divisions among the Liberals, he lost his seat to Labour in 1923.  After disagreeing with Lloyd George’s controversial plan to nationalise agricultural land, he joined the Conservative party, and in 1928 was raised to the peerage as Baron Melchett.  Sir Alfred Mond organised the merger of Britain’s four largest chemical companies to form Imperial Chemical Industries (I.C.I.), at that time one of the world’s largest industrial corporations, and he became its first chairman.   

Following a visit to what was then called Palestine in 1921, Mond became involved with the Zionist movement that worked and campaigned towards a Jewish homeland (eventually secured in 1948).  He became president of the British Zionist Foundation and founded the town of Tel Mond in Israel in 1929. 

Sir Alfred Mond died at his London home the following year, aged 62.  In Tel Aviv Melchett Street is named after the first MP for Swansea West.                                 


Saturday 11 July 2015

6 Worm's Head

 6. Worm’s Head (photos: Dylan, Vernon, Worm’s Head) – 11 July 2015

On the south-west tip of peninsular Gower, the mile-long Worm’s Head promontory takes its name from Wurm, Old English for dragon or sea monster.  The illusion is heightened by a strange hollow sound that can emanate from a blow hole in stormy conditions when spray leaps high.  When waves break over the Worm in rough weather with bursts of spray and the cries of seabirds it is an impressive sight.

From Rhossili headland the promontory is open for 2½ hours either side of low tide, requiring a scramble across rocks over the natural causeway past rock pools to the Inner Head, before clambering a shorter distance over jagged rocks to the Middle Head.  A natural stone arch called the Devil’s Bridge takes one to the Outer Head, where access is prohibited from early March to the end of August as kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills and guillemots are nesting.  Often grey seals are seen, with occasional sightings of dolphins.  Worm’s Head is a National Trust nature reserve.

As early as 1516 the Worm was mentioned in writing in an account of the legend of the infant St Cenydd being cast adrift in an open boat in the Loughor estuary, before rescue by seabirds which took him to Worm’s Head.  The Outer Head contains an almost inaccessible cave in the sheer rock-face, about 15ft above the high water mark.  This was noted by antiquarian John Leland in the sixteenth century, and bones of mammoth, bear and reindeer have been found there.  In the late nineteenth century an eccentric great-nephew of the poet Robert Southey stayed at Stouthall: he had a table and chair rowed out to the cave, though it is unlikely he ever produced anything literary there. 

Those who have painted Worm’s Head from a boat on the sea include James Harris of Reynoldston, Alfred Parkman the Bristol topographical artist, and Edward Duncan who regularly visited Gower during the summers to paint watercolours.

The Talbot family of Penrice Castle used to keep a flock of sheep grazing on the grassy Inner Head from September to March.  Each Tuesday a local farmer would collect a sheep off the Worm to be killed at Penrice, for the family to enjoy Worm’s Head mutton.  Even if the Talbots were staying at their London residence the sheep would be sent to them by rail.  But sheep developed a liking for the salt-air grass of the Inner Head and could be reluctant to return to mainland grass.  Sheep farmer Wilfred Beynon recalled how in the summer of 1932 a flock broke out of the field and tried to cross the causeway to the Worm when the tide was coming in: all 70 were drowned.

There was an experiment growing early potatoes on the Worm, but the labour of getting the crop across the rocks to the mainland made it counter-productive.

On the clifftop overlooking the Worm stands the National Coastwatch Look-out, opened in 2007 and staffed by volunteers.  With 300,000 visitors to Rhossili each year it displays a guide to causeway crossing times, for there have been fatalities (not just sheep) trying to cross when the tide quickly comes in.  Besides offering advice and guidance, Coastwatch volunteers can alert H.M. Coastguard about any swimmers, sailors or walkers in difficulty. 

In June 1940, after visiting the Worm with Caitlin and his Pennard friend Wyn Lewis, poet Vernon Watkins had to assist an unfit Dylan Thomas hurry back to the mainland, as the tide was coming in.  Dylan was anxious lest he be stranded on the Worm for seven hours - while Caitlin was back on the mainland in the company of the handsome Wyn… 


Saturday 4 July 2015

5 Parkwern Mansion

5. Parc Wern (photos: Amy Dillwyn, Parc Wern Nurses Home) – 4 July 2015

Sketty’s Parc Wern Road runs from the top of Glanmor Road down to where Gower Road becomes Sketty Road: opposite this point stood the mansion of Parkwern.  This later became Parc Beck Nurses’ Home, but has more recently been redeveloped into private residences. 

When Parkwern was built around 1799 it was very different from its modern appearance, as shown in sketches by the ceramic illustrator Thomas Baxter around 1817-1818.  Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn MP was a tenant at Parkwern from 1842 to 1853, and his daughter Amy was born there. The family subsequently moved to Hendrefoilan House, and Amy Dillwyn became a novelist, industrialist and philanthropist.

Although it is outside the boundary of the neighbouring Singleton estate, Parkwern was purchased in 1853 for £6,000 by copper-master John Henry Vivian of Singleton Abbey.  The house was re-modelled to a Tudor Gothic design of Henry Woodyer, the Guildford architect of St Paul’s Church, Sketty, and doubled in size.  Inside were separate areas for male and female servants, and outside a stable block and coach house.

J.H. Vivian’s eldest son Henry Hussey had become manager of Hafod copper works in 1845 aged 24, and married Jessie Goddard, daughter of the M.P. for Swindon.  They lived at Verandah, now within the Botanic Gardens in Singleton Park, but within a year his wife died in childbirth.  In her memory St Paul’s Church in Sketty (then known as Singleton Church) was built, and much of Verandah was demolished.

After Henry Hussey had re-married in 1853 (to the daughter of another M.P.) he moved into Parkwern once it had been enlarged. 

To improve the water supply to Parkwern, in 1857 he had a water-wheel erected on the stream that flows through Singleton.  This has since been replaced by a modern water-wheel, near the Gorsedd Stones in Singleton Park.  Although J.H. Vivian had died in 1855, his widow Sarah remained in Singleton Abbey until her death in 1885. 

Only then could her eldest son Henry Hussey move from Parkwern, which passed to his second son William Graham by the terms of J.H. Vivian’s will.  As the bachelor squire of Clyne castle with extensive estates he had no need of moving to Parkwern, and instead of letting the mansion he left it standing empty for 26 years.  During the First World War his youngest sister Miss Dulcie Vivian made it available as a military hospital run by the Red Cross: in July 1917 53 patients were there. 

After the war the mansion with its 18-acre estate was purchased in 1920 for £16,500 by businessman Roger Beck, chairman of Swansea Hospital’s board of management, on behalf of the hospital authorities.  It became the Nurses’ Training School in May 1922, when it was renamed Parc Beck in his honour.  Roger Beck died the following year and is buried in Oystermouth cemetery.

A large accommodation block was added in 1925, designed by Glendinning Moxham (architect of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery) to match the design of Woodyer’s building work seventy years earlier.  Plans for a new six-hundred-bed hospital on the site did not materialise, and instead Singleton Hospital was built in Sketty Lane.  In the 1960s a separate brick-faced accommodation block was added at Parc Beck, when it became Swansea University’s Department of Nursing and Midwifery.

From 1916 part of the extensive Parc Beck estate had been used successfully for decades as allotments, but sadly this ceased in 1989, despite a campaign by the Parc Beck Allotments Society.  The area was sold for building, and the property was converted into luxury homes, though fittingly Parc Beck survives as the name of the housing development.