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.

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