Saturday 28 May 2016

51 Composer Dr Daniel Jones

51 Dr Daniel Jones   (photos: Dr Dan Jones 3) - 28 May 2016

No. 38 Eversley Road in Sketty is a large semi-detached house, though the name “Warmley” is no longer displayed.  It was the boyhood home of the composer Dr Daniel Jones, friend of Dylan Thomas.  Born in Pembroke in 1912 - and thus two years older than Dylan - Dan Jones was a polymath, a person who excelled in many fields.  With a father who was a composer and a mother who was a singer, his forte was music, but he initially obtained a degree in English literature at Swansea University before studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music between 1935 and 1938.  Having won the 1935 Mendelssohn Scholarship, he studied in Czechoslovakia, France, Germany and the Netherlands, and developed his linguistic skills.  During the war he was a captain in the Intelligence Corps, and served at Bletchley Park decoding Russian, Romanian and Japanese texts.

He attended Swansea Grammar School on Mount Pleasant, where the senior English teacher was D.J. Thomas, Dylan’s father.  The first meeting of the two schoolboys is described in “The Fight”, a short story in Dylan’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog”. 

Before Dan Jones went abroad on the music scholarship, he was one of the “Kardomah Boys”, the group of talented young men who met informally over coffee upstairs in the Kardomah Café in Castle Street in the 1930s.  They included painters Alfred Janes and Mervyn Levy, writer Charles Fisher, journalist and broadcaster Wynford Vaughan Thomas, and Dylan.  When from 1935 poet Vernon Watkins joined them, Dan Jones had already moved from Swansea to pursue his music studies.  He and Vernon first met during the war at Bletchley Park - where both were working at the government code breaking centre. 

In October 1949, along with Alfred Janes, Vernon Watkins and writer John Prichard, Dan Jones took part at the Grove in the Uplands in the BBC radio discussion “Swansea and the Arts” with Dylan.  The ‘Evening Post’ photo of that occasion (reproduced on the cover of the ‘Radio Times’) stated that Daniel Jones was then the only Welsh composer to have written a symphony, and would be conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of it during the Swansea Festival. 

In 1951 he was made a Doctor of Music, and the following year awarded an Honorary D Litt degree.

Before Dylan took the train to London for his fateful fourth visit to New York in October 1953, he sent a telegram to Dan Jones “Can you meet Bush 1.30 today on my way to America – Dylan”.  Though now demolished, the Bush Hotel in the High Street became the final Swansea pub Dylan visited, joined that afternoon by others including Vernon Watkins, Rev. Leon Atkin of St Paul’s Church in St Helen’s Road, and Dan Jones, who eventually saw him onto the train at High Street Station. 

After Dylan’s death the landlord of Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne drove Dan Jones to Southampton to meet the liner “United States”, which brought Dylan’s body back from New York.

Awarded an OBE in 1968, he published the memoir “My Friend Dylan Thomas in 1977.  The National Museum of Wales has Alfred Janes’s portrait of Dan Jones, while Bernard Mitchell’s photographic portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Daniel Jones had three daughters from his first marriage in 1937, and a son and a daughter by his second marriage.  From 22 Rosehill Terrace off Constitution Hill he moved to 53 Southward Lane, a detached house in Newton where a plaque states he lived from 1957 until his death in 1993.  By then he had composed thirteen symphonies – his fourth in 1954 in memory of Dylan – and eight string quartets.  Many of his compositions were written to commission - by the Festival of Britain, the Swansea Festival, the Royal National Eisteddfod, the BBC and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 

Composer Dr Daniel Jones was far more than just “the friend of Dylan Thomas”.

Saturday 21 May 2016

50 Miss Olive Talbot and Nicholaston Church

50 Nicholaston Church (photos: drawing of church, statue over porch) - 21 May 2016

One south Gower church is a reminder that wealth and privilege cannot guarantee immunity from life’s tragedies.  St Nicholas Church stands in isolation three-quarters of a mile west of the hamlet of Nicholaston.  The fourteenth century building was extensively rebuilt and restored in the late nineteenth century by Miss Olive Talbot, in memory of her father CRM Talbot of Margam Castle.  The church re-opened in December 1894, but Olive Talbot had died two months earlier in London aged 51.

Olivia Emma (Olive) Talbot was born in 1842 at 40 Belgrave Square, London, the youngest daughter of CRM Talbot, who had inherited the Penrice and Margam estates from his father, Thomas Mansel Talbot.  CRM Talbot married Lady Charlotte Butler in 1835; they had one son and three daughters, but his wife died in Malta in 1846, while they were on holiday in their yacht "Galatea".  Olive was aged just four when her mother died - her father had been ten when his own mother died.   

Thirty years later tragedy again struck this family: Talbot was devastated when his only son Theodore was killed in a hunting accident - thus his eldest daughter Emily Charlotte would inherit the Penrice and Margam estates.  Furthermore Olive, a close friend of Amy Dillwyn of Hendrefoilan House, was disabled for much of her life through a spinal condition.  She spent her last 20 years housebound in London, unable to attend her father’s funeral at Margam Abbey in 1890.  She used her inheritance to finance the building of new churches in Maesteg and Abergwynfi, and to restore or enlarge others such as St David’s, Betws, and Nicholaston.

Olive Talbot died in 1894 at the Talbots’ London house, 3 Cavendish Square, without ever seeing the results of the work she had financed.  She was buried in the Talbot family vault in Margam Abbey; her sister Emily Talbot had St Theodore’s Church in Port Talbot built in 1895-97 in memory of Olive and their brother Theodore.   

Olive Talbot was much influenced by the Oxford Movement, which during the nineteenth century sought to re-introduce ritual and ceremonial into Church of England services.  She funded the building of St. Michael's Theological College in Llandaff (it began in Aberdare), and had St Nicholas Church completely rebuilt in High Church style, at a cost of £2,000 (over three-and-a-half million pounds today). 

Stone from Cefn Bryn was used for rebuilding the walls, while materials used for the interior included teak and oak, alabaster and coloured marble.  The font is said to be made from a solid block of stalagmite, and the hanging pulpit (as opposed to being attached to the floor) is decorated with alabaster figures of John Keble, Edward Pusey and Henry Liddon, Anglo-Catholic clergy prominent in the Oxford Movement.  St Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors, pawnbrokers, children and Russia, so the west window portrays him holding the three balls signifying pawnbrokers, with a ship above and an anchor below; elsewhere children feature in several of the windows, though there seems to be no mention of Russia!

The antiquarian Rev. JD Davies, rector of Llanmadoc and Cheriton, described Ncholaston Church as “the most elaborately treated ecclesiastical building in Wales, if not in the west of England”.   

In the churchyard the Portland stone cross was designed by Llandaff Diocesan architect (this was before the formation of the Swansea and Brecon Diocese) George Eley Halliday of Cardiff.  Perusing his drawings and architectural plans did provide Olive Talbot, housebound in London, with some conception of the work that she was financing.

On the north wall inside the church is a memorial to those of the parish who died in the 1914-18 war, and a plaque which was “erected by the grateful parishioners of Nicholaston in loving memory of Miss Olive E. Talbot who restored this church in 1894”. 


Saturday 14 May 2016

49 Will Evans Blitz paintings

49 Will Evans (photos: Temple Street, Wesley Chapel, bombed area) - 14 May 2016

When the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery re-opens later this year, visitors will be able to peruse familiar parts of the collection once again.  Among paintings that attract much interest are those of bomb-damaged central Swansea in 1941 by Will Evans.  Several of these used to be displayed in the corridors of the Guildhall, and some reproductions used to hang in Swansea Museum.

Although he was not an official war artist, Will Evans produced dramatic paintings of the Second World War which show the devastation upon civilian life caused by aerial bombardment.  Most photographs of burnt-out buildings would hardly be works of art, but those painted by Will Evans of central Swansea after the devastation of the “Three Nights’ Blitz” of February 1941 have a quality that conveys both the destruction and the lost grandeur.  He made preliminary sketches among the rubble and devastation which he then re-worked into paintings back at his studio in Stanley Terrace, near the top of Mount Pleasant hill.

Born in 1888 in Waun Wen, Will Evans grew up among the Irish community in Swansea, and attended St Joseph’s Roman Catholic School.  He followed his father in working in the printing department of the South Wales Canister Works, later becoming the firm’s litho-artist.  He developed his talent in drawing and painting as a part-time student at the School of Art and Crafts in Alexandra Road.

Though medically unfit to serve in H.M. Forces during the First World War, Will Evans worked as a Post Office sorter, and assisted the Red Cross, during that time.

His painting came to notice when three of his works were shown in 1928 at a South Wales Art Society exhibition in Cardiff.  In 1935 he had his first painting – of Three Cliffs Bay - hung in Swansea’s recently-opened Guildhall.

Normally the subjects of his paintings were scenes in Gower, North Wales or Cornwall, until Will Evans embarked on documenting war-torn Swansea.  His 36 Blitz paintings were exhibited at a one-man show at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in 1946, when Mr D.H.I. Powell, editor of the ‘Evening Post’, commented that the town and future generations owe Will Evans a debt of gratitude for his colourful record of the town’s tragedy.

The painting of Temple Street (nowadays pedestrianised, for it was realigned after post-war rebuilding) shows on the left the remains of the David Evans store.  Following damage from incendiary bombs this had to be demolished, along with the shells of many other buildings, by the Royal Engineers, but David Evans could rebuild on the site.  The rubble on the right hand side of the picture is the remains of the iconic Ben Evans store, with the Three Lamps pub halfway along Temple Street.  Though the company wished to rebuild on the same site, they were not permitted to do so, as the Corporation intended to lay out Castle Gardens as a memorial to civilians killed during the Second World War.  Ben Evans relocated to Walter Road and to Morriston, though never managing to recapture its pre-war grandeur as “The Harrods of Wales”, and ceased trading around 1960.  In the centre distance of the picture in Castle Bailey Street is the tower of the Evening Post offices, formerly the head Post Office.

Another Will Evans painting shows the remains of the Wesley or Goat Street Chapel, a large building erected in 1847 which stood at the corner of College Street and Goat Street (now upper Princess Way).  This was also destroyed on the third night of the bombardment, 21st February 1941.  It is viewed from the east, with the Mond Buildings visible in the right distance.  There is a memorial plaque at head height between two College Street premises.        

Will Evans died in 1957 not far from his Stepney Terrace home, in Mount Pleasant Hospital, in his seventieth year: those paintings of Swansea after the Blitz are his memorial.            

Saturday 7 May 2016

48 Dr Thomas Bowdler, the censor of Shakespeare

48 Dr Thomas Bowdler (photos: Shakespeare, Bowdler’s grave, advert, cover pages) - 7 May 2016
Those who enjoy playing the board game Scrabble or watching the words-and-numbers game show “Countdown” on television may know of the verb “to bowdlerize”.  One dictionary defines it as “to remove passages or words regarded as indecent from a play or novel, to expurgate”; another defines it as “to remove material that is considered improper or offensive from a text or account, especially with the result that it becomes weaker or less effective”.

The word is derived from the name of Dr Thomas Bowdler, who lived in Swansea 200 years ago and whose gravestone is on the south-east side of All Saints Church, Oystermouth.  Whereas the dandy “Beau” Nash moved from Swansea to Bath, to become the arbiter of fashion in Regency times, Bowdler did the reverse, being born at Box near Bath in 1754, but settling at The Rhyddings in Brynmill.  As children the Bowdlers enjoyed listening to their father reading them Shakespeare’s plays, only later to discover that he had edited them to omit parts that he deemed unsuitable.  Thomas Bowdler and his sister set out to produce an edition that “would not bring a blush to the most innocent cheek of youth”.

Initially his sister Henrietta Maria (known as Harriet) did the editing to produce the first expurgated edition of “The Family Shakespeare” in 1807, though the volume was published anonymously: as with George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) and the Brontë sisters, it was difficult for a woman to have a book published at that time.  The Bowdler version contained twenty Shakespearian plays, omitting “whatever is unfit to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies”.  Anything which seemed irreverent or immoral was removed – deleting about a tenth of the original text.  Interjections of “God!” were replaced by “heavens!”, while in “Hamlet” Ophelia’s suicide by drowning becomes accidental rather than deliberate. 

Thomas Bowdler moved to Swansea in 1810 when its population was around 20,000.  A Fellow of the Royal Society, he no longer practised medicine, but was an active campaigner for prison reform.  In 1818 he brought out an edition of “The Family Shakespeare” in ten volumes which did not have such drastic deletions as his sister’s earlier edition.  Swansea Museum has a copy that used to belong to Mrs Ben Evans of the famous department store.  But Bowdler’s abridgements and alterations did make Shakespearian plays known to a wide audience, and motivated people to turn from an abridged version to the original text - perhaps to see what had been omitted! 

A committed churchman, Bowdler died at Rhyddings in 1825 aged 70.  Posthumously his six-volume expurgated edition of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” was published.  He bequeathed to St Mary’s Church a painting of the Madonna and Child by the seventeenth century Italian artist Sassoferrato.  Although destroyed by wartime bombardment, a full-colour digital replica was produced from a black-and-white image in 2007, and this now hangs in the church.  He was buried in Oystermouth churchyard, because there was no further space around St Mary’s, his funeral cortѐge being the last to proceed along the tide-line from Swansea to Mumbles.  Bowdler left his extensive library to what at the time was St David’s College, Lampeter.  The verb “to bowdlerize” was in usage by 1838.

Even though he expurgated many of Shakespeare’s plays, Bowdler stopped short of emulating Irish poet laureate Nahum Tate, who in 1681 managed to produce a version of the tragedy “King Lear” with a happy ending.  Bowdler evidently could cope with “Titus Andronicus”, for obscenity and blasphemy were his main concerns, rather than the amount of violence.
So after the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, it is timely to remember that “the censor of Shakespeare” indirectly did much to popularise his work