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’.