Saturday 27 August 2016

64 The Grenfells

64 The Grenfells (photos: Frances & P St L Grenfell, Egyptian mummy, St Thomas) 27 Aug 2016

What connects St Leger Crescent in St Thomas, Maesteg Street off Foxhole Road, and Riversdale Road in West Cross, with Swansea Museum’s best known exhibit?  It is the Grenfell family.

Like the Vivians, another family of copper masters, the Grenfells came originally from Cornwall.  Pascoe Grenfell was born in 1761, though in the Buckinghamshire village of Taplow, and went into partnership with Thomas Williams ‘the Copper King’ to run Swansea’s Middle and Upper Bank copper works east of the river Tawe.  He acquired a controlling interest in the works, and formed the company Pascoe Grenfell and Sons in 1829.  Like Sir John Morris with Morriston, and the Vivians with Hafod, the Grenfells built houses for their workers to rent, and erected schools for the children.

As smoke laden with sulphur from scores of copperworks chimneys began polluting the Lower Swansea Valley, the Vivians moved west to Singleton Abbey and Sir John Morris moved from Clasemont to the now demolished Sketty Park House, but the Grenfells remained eastside where their workers lived, in St Thomas at Maesteg House.  Built in the 1840s, this housed Belgian refugees during the First World War, and was subsequently demolished to make way for the Grenfell Park Estate.

Pascoe Grenfell’s second son, Pascoe St Leger Grenfell, was born in 1798, and after being educated at Eton and in France, he followed his elder brother Riversdale to Swansea, taking over management of the copper works.  He was a benevolent employer, for during more than thirty years when he was in charge there were no strikes or lock-outs.  Of the nine children by his first wife, their fourth son Francis attained the rank of Field Marshal, being elevated to the peerage as Baron Grenfell of Kilvey.  A daughter Mary trained as a nurse in London but devoted herself to work among the poor in St Thomas, supporting the Temperance Movement, and establishing the Golden Griffin coffee house next to the Midland Railway station in St Thomas: it offered tea, coffee and fellowship as an alternative to consuming alcohol in the pubs.  Mary Grenfell provided an iron church for the people of St Thomas in 1876, and ten years later her brother Field Marshal Grenfell laid the foundation of St Thomas Church, which she and other family members financed in memory of Pascoe St Leger.  A blue plaque outside commemorates comedian and goon Sir Harry Secombe, who used to sing in the choir.

The Grenfells also built All Saints Church on the hillside in Kilvey, and three rows of terraced housing below - Rifleman’s Row, Grenfell Town and Taplow Terrace (named after Pascoe Grenfell’s birthplace) – and the Foxhole Music Hall.  By 1871 the area called Grenfelltown comprised seventy-one houses containing 386 people.  Pascoe St Leger was Chairman and then Treasurer of Swansea Harbour Trust, a Borough Councillor, Justice of the Peace and Deputy-Lieutenant of the County of Glamorgan.  He built the Kilvey Ragged Schools - providing free education for poor children - where over a thousand children were educated - part of these is now the Gwyn Mission.  Although the Grenfells were members of the Church of England, the schools were non-sectarian, which was welcomed by the predominantly nonconformist workforce of Middle and Upper Bank Works.

Pascoe St Leger Grenfell died aged 80 at his daughter’s Nottingham home in 1879, and was buried in the Grenfell vault in Taplow.  His twin grandsons, one awarded the VC, who were both killed during the First World War, are commemorated in a stained-glass window in All Saints Church, Kilvey.

Mary Grenfell had visited Egypt when her brother, a keen amateur archaeologist, was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and she persuaded him to send Egyptian artifacts - including the mummy of the priest Hor - to Swansea, for an Egyptian gallery in the Museum.   Thus it is Swansea Museum, rather than Swansea University’s Egyptian Centre, that houses an Egyptian mummy.   

Saturday 20 August 2016

63 John Charles, 'the gentle giant'

63 John Charles - 20 August 2016 (photos: John Charles, bust, Gareth Bale)

The Wales football team’s excellent achievement in reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in France brought much comparison with the time when Wales last made an impact in a football competition: that was in 1958 when they reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Sweden.  On both occasions Wales had one outstanding player – Cardiff-born Gareth Bale in Euro 2016, and Swansea-born John Charles in the 1958 World Cup.  Also on both occasions Wales lost to the eventual winners – Portugal in 2016 and Brazil in 1958 – with vital players absent from the team. 

Arguably Wales’s greatest footballer, John Charles never played for Swansea’s senior side.  He was born in 1931 in Cwmbwrla, attended Cwmbwrla and Manselton schools, and joined the boys’ section of what was then Swansea Town A.F.C.  After leaving school he joined the ground staff at the Vetch Field, but was not selected for the senior team, which was then in the Third Division (equivalent to the current League One).  While playing for Gendros he was spotted by a Leeds United scout, given a trial match, and signed for them at the age of 17. 

Similarly Gareth Bale was born in Cardiff, but has not played for Cardiff City, having been signed by Southampton in 2006 when aged 16, and going on to play for Tottenham Hotspur before joining Spanish club Real Madrid.  John Charles’s greatest years were his first spell with Leeds United, and then in Italy playing for Juventus, though late in his career he did play for a Welsh club – Cardiff City.

The statue outside the Liberty Stadium is of Ivor Allchurch, who played 445 times for the Swans, though there is a bust of John Charles inside the foyer.  His football league debut was for Leeds United in April 1949, playing at centre-half.  While on National Service he was allowed to play for Leeds, and for the Army - leading his team to victory in the Army Cup in 1952.  Once back with Leeds United he was switched from centre-half to centre-forward in 1952-53, and began his prolific goal scoring.  As club captain in 1955-56 he led Leeds to promotion to the First Division (equivalent to the present-day Premier League), scoring 29 goals in 42 appearances, and the following year scored 38 in 40 games.  In 1957 he was transferred to the Italian club Juventus for £65,000 - then a British record fee - where the 6ft 2in Welshman was nicknamed “Il Gigante Buono” (The Gentle Giant). 

Capped for Wales when 18 (the youngest Welsh international until Ryan Giggs), John Charles was instrumental in Wales reaching the 1958 World Cup quarter finals in Sweden.  But injury in the play-off against Hungary forced him to miss that quarter-final when Wales lost to Brazil.  He played 38 times for Wales.

After five successful years with Juventus, John Charles returned to play again for Leeds United, and after a few years with Cardiff City he retired in 1966.

Perhaps greater even than his goal-scoring feats was his example as a player – he was never cautioned or sent off during his entire career.  In 2001 he was awarded the CBE, and the following year received the Freedom of the City of Swansea at a ceremony in the Brangwyn Hall.  He died in Wakefield Hospital aged 72 in 2004; his widow bequeathed his ashes to the City of Swansea and they were buried beneath the bust at the Liberty Stadium.       
Former England manager Sir Bobby Robson ranks him alongside such outstanding footballers as Brazil’s Pelé, Argentina’s Maradona and Northern Ireland’s George Best, and esteemed him world class in two very different positions – centre half and centre forward.  John Charles was acclaimed the Football Association of Wales’s most outstanding player of 50 years, for as the Juventus vice-president said, he “represented the sport in the best and purest way”.  A pity he never actually played for the Swans..

Saturday 13 August 2016

62 Penrice Castle

62 Penrice – 13 August 2016 (photos: Penrice Castles, Prince Charles visit)

HRH Prince Charles was particularly interested to visit Penrice Castle in July 1998.  Though the ruined 12th century castle is the largest in Gower, his interest was rather in the nearby mansion, built in the late 18th century to the design of Gloucestershire architect Anthony Keck.  The Prince of Wales was there to unveil a commemorative plaque on Cefn Bryn to inaugurate the Gower Way, the 56km linear footpath from Rhossili in the south-west of the peninsula to Penlle’r Castell on Mynydd y Gwair in the upland part of the lordship.  The Gower Society marked its 50th year by embarking on this millennium project, placing marker stones at roughly 1km intervals along the route.

The dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century had enabled the Mansel family to purchase Margam Abbey and its estates, whereupon they chose to live at Margam rather than in Gower, where they owned the Norman castle at Penrice and the Tudor fortified manor house at Oxwich.  But after the estates had passed by marriage to the Talbot family, Thomas Mansel Talbot (1747–1813) felt that Penrice was ‘the most romantic spot in all the county’, and so had a four-storey Georgian mansion built there of Bath stone to Keck’s design between 1773 and 1775.  During this construction the surrounding area was turned into a landscaped park under the direction of a student of Capability Brown, William Emes of Derbyshire, who planted 200 poplars, 60 pines, a variety of fruit trees, and created a man-made lake.  Like his contemporary Thomas Johnes with the Hafod estate near Aberystwyth, Talbot was influenced by the ‘picturesque’, as popularised by the sketching tours of Rev. William Gilpin.  The rear of Penrice mansion has a four-storey curved bay with a fine view across the park towards Oxwich Bay, while on the other side the front entrance porch with two Doric columns stands in the shadow of the ruined Norman castle. 

During Talbot’s ‘Grand Tour’ as a young man, visiting Italy between 1769 and 1773, he had amassed a large collection of paintings, statues, antiquities and furniture.  Twenty-three crates of this collection including marble fireplaces and artworks were shipped from Leghorn in Italy to Mumbles on board the “Eagle” in June 1775, most being destined for Penrice.

Following Talbot’s marriage in 1794, when he was 47, to 17-year-old Lady Mary Fox Strangways, by whom he had one son and seven daughters, the folly known as The Towers was added at the main entrance to the park.  This was constructed to appear of similar date as the ruined 12th century Penrice Castle, though dismissed by Rev. Henry Skrine, author of ‘Two Tours through Wales’ in 1798, as “fictitious fragments of a modern ruin”.  Talbot also used Keck to design the 327-foot long Orangery at Margam, to house varieties of citrus fruits as well as Italian statues.

Later Penrice had two extensions, though both have since been demolished. A large stone-faced wing by William Powell was added to Keck’s house in 1812-17, with much later a further block in 1893-6, and a conservatory by Macfarlane’s of Glasgow, which came to be known as the ‘Crystal Palace’.  That was later moved to the vegetable gardens, before demolition in the 1960s.  The late Georgian wing was demolished in 1967-8 following similar treatment to the 1890s’ block, and the site replaced by a paved rose garden.
Near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, Highgrove House was purchased for the Prince of Wales in 1980 by the Duchy of Cornwall; that country house was also designed by Anthony Keck, although built from 1796 to 1798, later than Penrice.  But Highgrove had suffered a fire in 1893 so that much of the interior had been rebuilt to a different design.  Prince Charles’s interest in Penrice in 1998 was to see the interior, to gain some idea how Highgrove may have appeared before the fire. 

Saturday 6 August 2016

61 The Battle of Gower 1136

61 The Battle of Gower - 6 August 2016 (photos; plaques, 1136 stone)

Garngoch is an area of much historical interest - the site of a Roman settlement and where a Bronze Age burial cairn was excavated in 1855 by Sir J.T. Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penllergare.  Furthermore, just seventy years after the Battle of Hastings, a significant battle took place on the Common.

The least interested person in history is aware that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, when William the Conqueror from Normandy defeated the Saxons under Harold Godwin.  William the Conqueror might seem remote to people in South Wales, but it was in Cardiff Castle that his eldest son Robert, Duke of Normandy, was imprisoned - by his younger brother King Henry I - for 28 years, and died there in 1134.  William’s second son had succeeded the Conqueror as king, before being killed in an alleged hunting accident in the New Forest, and was followed as king by William’s third son Henry I, who died in 1135.  The following year, as a direct result of Henry’s death which led to anarchy and civil war, the Battle of Gower was fought on Garngoch Common.  

Just south of Garngoch Hospital, before the road bridge over the A484 from Gorseinon towards Swansea, a sign points east to the battle site.  A short walk across a field leads to a 4-tonne memorial stone on a raised bank that was unveiled on St David’s Day 1986 by former Plaid Cymru president Dr. Gwynfor Evans.  Two adjacent slate plaques with inscriptions in Welsh and English state: “This stone commemorates the Battle of Gower January 1st 1136.  A force of Welshmen led by Hywel ap Maredudd of Breconshire battled to defeat an Anglo-Norman army.  Many perished with much bloodshed.  This suggests the origin of the Common's name Garn Goch.  Land without heritage is land without soul.”  The Battle of Gower Memorial Committee had campaigned for two years to draw attention to the battle, with the memorial stone from Blaenyfan Quarry being donated by Wottan Roadstone Ltd.

Henry I’s heir had drowned when the White Ship sank in the English Channel, which left only his daughter Matilda to succeed the king.  In those unenlightened times the thought of rule by a woman (whether Monarch, Prime Minister, or President) was unacceptable to many, so a state of turmoil, anarchy and civil war prevailed once Henry died.  The Welsh grasped the opportunity to rise up and reclaim lands taken by the Norman barons.

Hywel ap Maredudd, lord of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire), gathered an army of men from there and from northern upland Gŵyr for this.  They encountered a force of Normans, who had seriously under-estimated the strength of the Welsh army, on the common at Garngoch on New Year’s Day 1136.  The Welsh inflicted a violent and comprehensive victory - it is said that 516 men were slain, mostly Normans, with accounts of wolves and ravens having a New Year’s feast from the rotting corpses of Norman soldiers.  The place name (literally red cairn) may refer to the vast amount of blood shed that day.  Although historical accounts are usually written by the victors and therefore are rarely impartial, an account of the battle was written in Latin during the next few years by John of Worcester in his “Chronicle of Chronicles”, and the battle is mentioned by Gerald Cambrensis in his “Itinerarium Cambriae” (Journey through Wales), written in 1191.  That precise number of 516 dead indicates accuracy of reporting.

That Welsh victory inspired more rebellions around Wales, with an attack on Kidwelly Castle when Gwenllian, Princess of Deheubarth, was killed, and in October the major battle at Crug Mawr near Cardigan where her husband Gruffydd ap Rhys defeated an Anglo-Norman force.  Unlike William the Conqueror’s sons, to whom any concept of brotherly love seemed anathema, when Gruffydd died the following year his sons co-operated in trying to regain Welsh lands lost to the Normans.